Leave it up to two kids from suburban New Jersey to be the first corporate
sponsored college students.
In September, the dynamic duo of Chris and Luke started chrisandluke.com, a
website dedicated to finding a corporate sponsor for their bachelors degree.
"Sponsor us - we will eat your cereal even if we're not hungry!" says one
computer-manipulated picture showing Chris - or is it Luke? - ready to
shovel a spoonful of it into his mouth.
"We will drink your soda and eat your chips," says another photo, the boys
posed next to a sports car. In an interview, Luke said he'd get a tattoo of
his sponsor's logo.
They want to be "spokesguys."
It worked. In June, they announced their sponsor. Turns out these dudes
pimped out themselves to the tune of $40,000 a year (including tuition, room
and board, and books), which will defer the costs of attending Pepperdine
(Chris) and the University of Southern California (Luke). A credit card
company - which shall remain nameless - picked up the tab.
"We hope to help college students across America learn about the importance
of financial responsibility and money management," their website claims. So
they signed with a credit card company? Giving the average college student a
credit card and telling him to be fiscally responsible is like giving a
hatchet to an axe murderer and telling him to chop some kindling for the
These teens haven't started college, and they haven't lived in the most
demanding, fiscally conscious environments - one toured the East Coast with
his rock band and the other bought a car with profits from an earlier
business. Hailing from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, their biggest fiscal
decisions in high school were probably whether they should go to Cancun or
Orlando for Spring Break. Incidentally, they chose Orlando. That's on their
But aside from the hypocrisy of credit card companies preaching fiscal
responsibility and two high school graduates with $40,000 annual stipends
telling undergrads how to form a budget and save money, the real problem
with Chris and Luke is their blatant selling out, their willingness to hand
over much of their lives to a corporation.
They are the "first corporate sponsored college students," their website
And they're proud of this?
Corporations for years have devised new strategies to infiltrate consumers'
lives. First, passive advertisements on magazines, posters and billboards
were the norm. Of course, you could always look the other way, ignoring
these messages. Later, radio and television ads held audiences captive -
unless they turned the dial, and even then, companies started to integrate
products into the content of the show.
Marketing moved its captive audience strategy beyond traditional media when
corporate sponsorship became the norm in the 1990s. You can't enjoy a
ballgame without mentioning a corporation when you announce the name of the
stadium. You can't go to the Smithsonian without knowing that the biggest
corporation in the world sponsored an exhibit.
Chris and Luke - and people like them - represent the highest evolution of
marketing to date, the ultimate manifestation of corporate control in
everyday life. Unlike previous decades' consumers, who were unwillingly -
or, at least grudgingly - subjected to corporate messages through magazine,
radio, television and other media, Chris and Luke and others have become the
message. By choice. They encouraged it.
Marketing is no longer passive or even active - the medium and the consumer
Now, you can't walk down the street without seeing people festooned in logos
of third-world exploiting athletic apparel companies. Working-class auto
racing fans proclaim their diehard allegiance to car companies that have
taken their money with overpriced, low-quality vehicles made by laborers
working in horrible conditions in greasy, steamy factories. That's like
someone on death row wearing a t-shirt from the local power company as he
waits for the electric chair. That's like a smoker parading around in
sportswear riddled with the logo of their favorite tobacco company, a
company whose products will most likely lead to the smoker's death, a
company that manipulates the content of its products to make it harder to
quit. Wait - that actually happens.
If only Chris and Luke knew the real implications of their ploy. Maybe
they'll learn the hard lesson of "playing by the rules of private
enterprise" when they lose their sponsorship because Chris is caught
half-naked in an all-girls dorm, or when Luke is caught consuming alcohol
before he's 21. See, there's a "moral clause" in their contract that allows
the company to cut off funds if some moral transgression occurs.
Then, when the corporate welcome mat is pulled out from beneath their
brand-named sneakers, maybe Chris and Luke will be able to tell us something
about fiscal management.
But even then, they'd probably be able to pick up sponsorship from Trojan
Gregory Parker is a freelance writer living in Chelsea, Michigan, where he
writes a weekly column about sustainable small-town living for The Chelsea
Standard called "Community Roots." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org