Absolutely for Sale

Dear jaded consumer: These two Houston artists are now competing for your attention. They sell ads, they're making a vodka billboard, and their client list includes Budweiser and Target. They call it art, but what advertisers want to know is, will it work

With smaller, local companies they've approached, the Guys have had better luck. Technical Risks, Inc., a frequent underwriter on KUHF public radio, has purchased spots on both Guys' right cuffs, as has Texas Art Supply, which rarely advertises at all. Other companies have sought out the Art Guys and asked to buy an ad -- like the owner of Larry's Markets, a high-end grocery-store chain in the Northwest, who heard the Guys lecture about the project. But the Guys know that for the project to go over big, they have to have major corporate anchors.

Unless the Guys can finagle a face-to-face meeting, getting a definite answer from a large company can take weeks. And despite corporate rhetoric about innovation and leadership, the first thing most potential clients want to know about the SUITS project is -- who else is doing it? Two weeks ago, the Guys finally heard back from somebody in Reebok's "Event Marketing" department. The terse letter, which the Guys took to be a good omen, asks 1) what confirmed brands are participating, 2) whether there are any restrictions on brands (lest Reebok's logo be contaminated) and 3) a time line for completion of the project.

So far, the Guys have filled almost half the 101 available spaces. If they reach their goal, they will rake in $319,500. If not, they will proceed with what they have. But even if they do make their goal, Galbreth says, "We won't make any real money. Half of that will be gone in taxes." Much of the rest will be used to meet travel and other expenses (dry-cleaning, for one). Embroidering the logos will cost over $15,000. The Guys have already far exceeded their postage budget, and they plan to spend $35,000 on travel. The idea is to make surprise appearances wherever a major event is happening, and to visit the home cities of the advertisers.

If travel seems like a fringe benefit, it won't be after a few months, Galbreth says. "This is one of those endurance works that we're known for." In the end, they don't have a good estimate of what they'll have in the bank -- but they won't be rich. "It'd be nice. I wish it would happen. It's about making money."

But making money is not easy. "Personally, I hate selling," says Galbreth unexpectedly, after a morning of cold calls. "When people's first response is no, it wears on you.

"It's really an emotional hit when it's someone that we know should be a part of this project, we know would benefit, and they say no. It's crushing." It's also bewildering. People who make million-dollar deals often won't drop the price of a large lunch meeting on the SUITS. "I don't think that advertisers fully understand the value of it," says Galbreth. "It gives the company such a high level of perceived coolness."

Still, the Art Guys are forging ahead with their project. And if they don't sell every single ad on the suits, well, perhaps that will serve to illustrate their original assertion: Their scheme is about selling, after all. It's not about selling out.

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