Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2001

This baby is brought to you by

August 5, 2001


Somewhere in Mount Kisco, N.Y., there is a newborn baby. His name is Budweiser. Or, conceivably, Preparation H. His folks haven't decided yet. More to the point, they haven't signed the contract.

It seems that Frances Schroeder and Jason Black are trying to sell "naming rights" to their kid. They're looking for a corporation willing to pay for the privilege of slapping its moniker on the child's birth certificate. As if he were a stadium or a subway stop. The minimum asking price: half a million bucks.

We'll pause here while you slap your forehead in disbelief.

Schroeder and Black initially put the rights up for sale on eBay when the baby was still "in utero," but they got no takers. He has since been born, and they're still looking: Black claims they've even had a nibble or two of interest.

Now here's a child who could have, as they say, "issues" when he grows up. One can imagine that poor little Panasonic Black will spend more than his share of time in the principal's office and the analyst's chair. And heaven help the child if the rights are purchased by a certain software manufacturer. I promise you: No man wants to go through life being known as either "Micro" or "Soft."

Maybe you're wondering why the couple (couple of what, I'll leave to you) would do something like this. You're thinking dire straits, right? Well, think again. While they may not be rolling in dough, Black and Schroeder do not, from outward appearances at least, seem to qualify for food stamps, either. He edits an Internet magazine in Manhattan; she's a stay-at-home mom. They live in a two-bedroom apartment with their two other children, neither of whom is named after a Fortune 500 company.

They cooked up the present scheme, they say, because they want to buy a house. They're also concerned about paying for college for the other kids and little Vagisil.

As Schroeder and Black see it, the corporation that buys naming rights to their son assures itself of a bonanza of publicity. Flashbulbs popping at the press conference where the name is unveiled. An army of reporters showing up to track every milestone event in the kid's life. Can't you just picture Diane Sawyer beaming into a camera as little Windex blows out the candle on his birthday cake?

Apparently, Schroeder and Black consider the news media a bunch of shallow, easily manipulated weasels. I'd resent that if it wasn't true.

But I'll tell you something else that's true: These people are nuts.

Folks used to know where real life stops and media entertainment begins. Now, real life "is" media entertainment. It happened slowly over the years a "Candid Camera" here, a "Cops" there. Next thing we know, our lives have become publicity stunts. We eat worms, lie down with rats and, indeed, act out the most intimate dramas of our existence marriage, sex, infidelity for the amusement of the camera's unblinking eye. Now these two geniuses propose to sacrifice their child's very identity for entertainment purposes only.

Maybe it hasn't occurred to Schroeder and Black, but most of us receive more than enough advertising messages on a daily basis. The most conservative estimate I've seen says we're exposed to 330 ads a day. Other estimates put the number well into the thousands. Either way, every surface, every building, every free space in the day, is seemingly brought to you by one sponsor or another. I've found ads pasted on the floor of my supermarket, slapped on the handle of my gas pump, stickered on the skin of my fruit. Do I really need to someday have a stranger walk up, stretch out his hand and say, "Pleased to meet you. I'm Kleenex Black"?

I think not. Enough is enough.

If I owned a corporation that had a half-mil lying around and I wanted to engender some positive publicity, I'd buy rights to the kid's name. Then I'd name him John, Malik or Joe.

Better yet, I'd buy renaming rights for his parents. I can think of a few choice things they deserve to be called.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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