How to Sell Yourself
The first thing any career counselor or self-help guru will tell you is that the key to success in life is learning how to sell yourself. Some of the authors of the most noteworthy and notorious eBay auctions took that advice literally. From the man who put his own kidney up for sale to the woman who auctioned off her virginity, one of the most established strategies for attracting significant media attention to an auction is to try to sell something you were born with.
The auctions presented in this section highlight some of the more creative ways people have sought to market pieces of themselves. Is there a vital organ you are not using that someone else might find essential? Have you been looking for the opportunity to part with your precious virginity? Are you willing to part with your soul, or would you prefer simply to walk around town with an advertisement plastered to your forehead? Get creative! The auctions described on the following pages are meant to inspire, and you need not be limited by what has already been done.
A word of caution, though: eBay often frowns upon these types of sales. The company has established a set of regulations that prohibit selling many of your most valuable assets. You should also check the laws that are applicable to your particular situation, as several of the auctions depicted in this section are not only against eBay policy, but also illegal.
Still, even if your auction is against formal eBay policy, take heart. It may generate sufficient publicity so that should eBay take down your listing, you will be able to continue the auction outside of eBay's domain, as a couple of more ambitious sellers discussed in this lesson did. Remember, millions of items are listed for sale on eBay every week. If you hope to have success in this competitive arena, you need to be willing to do what the other guy is not.YOUR AD GOES HERE: PART I
Advertisers are always looking for new and innovative places to market their products. While television, radio, and print ads are the most common, you can find advertisements almost anywhere you look. From the subway to the elevator to the golf course, companies seek out previously untapped venues where they can place an ad that will garner as much attention as possible. In early 2005, eBay helped one entrepreneurial young man open a previously untapped market: the human forehead.
Twenty-year-old college student Andrew Fischer from Omaha, Nebraska, offered the highest bidder in eBay auction number 5950507719 the opportunity to have their nonpermanent logo or brand name tattooed to his forehead for thirty days. According to the auction's description, this "Average Joe" would display the winning bidder's advertisement in all types of venues that the "Average Joe" frequented in his hometown of 600,000. Fischer's offer turned up in news stories published
far from his native Omaha. The auction received more than 300,000 hits and recorded a final sale price of $30,000.
In a seemingly unfortunate occurrence, the winning bidder never contacted the seller and Fischer was forced to resubmit the auction with controls put in place to limit who could bid. Attention the second time around was just as intense and, by the time the auction ended, 45 bids had pushed the final sale price to $37,375. The winner was Christian de Rivel, CEO of SnoreStop, an oral spray designed to help alleviate snoring.
De Rivel's money seems to have been well spent. The story was picked up by media outlets all over the world, and, according to de Rivel, sales through his Web site went up fivefold in the days after the auction ended. Numerous imitators cropped up, including both a man and a woman who offered to permanently tattoo the winning bidder's brand onto their foreheads. Unfortunately for these would-be advertisers, none enjoyed the same monetary success as Fischer.YOUR AD GOES HERE: PART II
Amber Rainey was in the third trimester of her pregnancy when Andrew Fischer was receiving international news coverage for auctioning off his forehead. After seeing the astronomical price the auction commanded, she looked at her growing belly and realized she had far more advertising space there than Andrew Fischer had on his forehead. Thus auction 3869933040 was conceived.
Titled "Advertising Space Available ON MY PREGNANT BELLY!" Rainey's auction went live on January 25, 2005. According to the description of the auction, the seller's baby was due March 21, and, as she put it, "People can't help but look at a pregnant woman's bump." The mother-to-be said she would not advertise anything she deemed to be offensive or put anything on her belly that would harm her or her unborn child. But, other than that, she would allow potential buyers the artistic freedom to create the advertisement of their choosing.
The auction, ending on February 5 after a one-week stint on eBay, attracted national news coverage, more than 50,000 visits, 97 bids, and a final sale price of $4,050. The winning bidder was GoldenPalace.com, an online casino notorious for its outlandish eBay buys. The casino immediately saw its advertising dollars pay huge dividends when Rainey scored an appearance on NBC's Today
show. She has also been covered on the national CBS Evening News
as well as appeared on numerous local television stations and in print in newspapers, magazines, and on Internet sites around the world. Considering that an advertisement on either CBS's Evening News
or the Today
show would cost many times what GoldenPalace.com paid for space on Amber's belly, the arrangement seems to have paid off nicely.THE HUMAN KIDNEY: WHO NEEDS TWO?
Posted by a seller from Sunrise, Florida, the ad read simply:
"Fully functional kidney for sale. You can choose either kidney. Buyer pays all transplant and medical costs. Of course only one for sale, as I need the other one to live. Serious bids only."
What ensued was a flood of attention and debate from around the world.
The auction began with an opening bid of $25,000. By the time eBay intervened and pulled the auction, the asking price had reached $5.7 million. Steve Westley, eBay's vice president of marketing at the time, stated, "EBay has zero tolerance for illegal items on this site. We have a very clear policy against this."
Indeed, selling one's kidney or, for that matter, any body part is against federal law in the United States and punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. Since 1984, when the U.S. Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act, organ donation has been set up as a gift program.
On September 2, 1999, immediately following the canceling of the proffered item by eBay, a second seller, this one from Bel Air, Maryland, added fuel to the fire by trying to circumvent federal law when he offered his own kidney for sale to benefit a charity, stating, "Will donate perfect healthy kidney for a reciprocal donation of 2.5 million dollars to a charity of my choice." This sale was summarily shut down by eBay.
While there is no way to know whether these sale or purchase offers were authentic, the idea of putting body parts up for sale generated a significant amount of ethical debate by academics, news organizations, and the general public. In the years since these two kidneys first attracted the media's spotlight, eBay has also stopped the auctions of livers, an entire cadaver, sperm, and human eggs. Selling sperm or eggs is not illegal, but it is against written eBay policy, making it unlikely that children will be born because of an eBay purchase anytime soon.ARE YOU DAMNED ANYWAY?
With the advent of eBay, the need to meet face-to-face with the devil in order to sell your soul has become a thing of the past. Over the years, several individuals have made high-profile attempts to sell their--or someone else's--soul on eBay. As early as 1999, news articles began making reference to souls for sale on eBay, but it was not until one attracted a $400 bid in 2001 that the media started paying significant attention to the implications of such arrangements.
In the 2001 case, the seller was a twenty-year-old Washington University student and the auction proceeded without coming to the attention of the people at eBay who regularly pull such sales. In the final hour of the auction, a buyer from Iowa stepped forward with the winning bid.
Unfortunately, the seller was never able to collect on the debt owed him, and when his sale was finally brought to the company's attention, he was suspended from doing business on eBay.
Since at least 2000 the company has had a standard response to such offers: "If the soul does not exist, eBay could not allow the auctioning of a soul, because there would be nothing to sell. However, if the soul does exist, then, in accordance with eBay's policy on human parts and remains, we would not allow the auctioning of human souls."
As one seller pointed out in 2003, however, this policy seems to discriminate based on religious beliefs. While the debate about what constitutes a human soul and who, if anyone, should be allowed to sell one may continue in theological courses everywhere, eBay at least does not seem likely to change its position. Among the auctions it has pulled were attempted sales of the soul of George W. Bush and that of a goldfish.IF MOM AND DAD DON'T GET IT RIGHT THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS
Most people go by the name they were given at birth. Sometimes last names change as the result of marriage, and occasionally a nickname will attach itself to a person, but, for the most part, like it or not, people stick with the name they were given. Except for one enterprising woman from Knoxville, Tennessee. Item number 5568750040 went up for sale on March 25, 2005, offering the winner the right to legally change thirty-three-year-old Terri Ilagan's name for life.
The seller assured potential bidders she was in good health and that the purchase was an excellent long-term investment. Whether the name was used to advertise a product, memorialize a loved one, honor a lost love, or celebrate a favorite cartoon character, the seller agreed to take up to three names (first, middle, and last) to be determined by the winning bidder.
According to the sales pitch furnished by the woman formerly known as Terri, "Every time I go to the bank, pay with a credit card, go to the gym, go to the doctor, write a check, enter a contest, buy airline tickets, or just meet new people on a daily basis, the name you picked will be mentioned and exposed!" Terri's exposure began as soon as the ad was posted. The auction was featured in newspapers across the country and the seller found herself being interviewed by radio and television stations from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
The auction was scheduled to run for only three days but was pulled by eBay ten minutes before it was first set to end due to, according to the seller, "a technicality." The second auction also ran for only three days and ended with a winning bid of $15,199 from GoldenPalace.com. According to the seller, who has since been renamed GoldenPalace.com, the purchase of her name qualified as a business expense for the Web site since it was advertising, and was therefore entirely tax-deductible.LOSING YOUR VIRGINITY
The ad first appeared on eBay's UK site and read: "Eighteen-year-old university student looking to sell virginity. Never lost it due to lesbianism." This offering was submitted by eighteen-year-old Rosie Reed who needed to raise cash to help with the £15,000 (US$27,500) debt she had racked up while in college.
When eBay pulled the ad almost immediately, Rosie was not deterred. She reposted the proposition on her own Web page and was inundated with more than two thousand requests from around the world. The British tabloid News of the World
paid to be granted exclusive rights to her story and reported that Rosie said, "It started as a joke and ended up as why not?"
The winning bidder was a forty-four-year-old divorced father of two who paid Rosie £8,400 (US$15,400) for the privilege of defrocking her. The man subsequently went into hiding after the News of the World
published the story. After the deal was consummated, Rosie was quoted as saying, "It was horrible. . . . I felt nervous and scared." The buyer is not likely to emerge anytime soon, as there are reports that Madonna is currently working on a movie based on Rosie's story. No word yet on when we can expect to see the story on the big screen.MOVING BEYOND A VIRTUAL GIRLFRIEND
One of the phenomena spawned by the rise of the Internet is online dating. In September of 2003 a twenty-two-year-old college junior had a brainstorm after watching the 1980s movie Can't Buy Me Love
--in which a high school student pays a cheerleader $1,000 a month to date him. She decided to forgo the dog and pony show of a typical romance and, instead, she offered herself as an "Imaginary Girlfriend" to the highest bidder.
In exchange for payment from the highest bidder, this original "Imaginary Girlfriend" promised to pen four letters and send along a picture to her new "boyfriend." She also suggested the "boyfriend" break up with her so she could write a final letter begging him to take her back. This first auction attracted 16,000 hits and a final sale price of $41. So successful was her first auction that she tried it again, this time attracting 20,000 hits and a final sale price of $81.
These sales in turn gave rise to a host of copycat imaginary girlfriends, and at one time eBay had more than sixty-five "girlfriends" offering a range of imaginary "services." Eventually the trend got a little too hot to handle, so in February of 2004 eBay stepped in and began removing the auctions after determining that the listings had moved into territory that was "clearly inappropriate."
If you missed out on the auctions but are still looking for imaginary love, take heart. There are several sites independent of eBay where one can purchase an imaginary girlfriend. For the dedicated eBayer, I LOVE MY IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND bumper stickers still appear for sale from time to time.HOW ABOUT THIS BOOB?
Tawny Peaks was an exotic dancer working at the Diamond Dolls Night Club in Clearwater, Florida, when she became famous as the result of a lawsuit filed against her and her employer. According to the plaintiff, a patron of the club, he was attending a bachelor party when Tawny's breast hit him. The aggrieved party claimed he suffered whiplash as a result of Tawny's 69HH breast smacking him in the face.
The patron stated her accoutrements were like "two cement blocks," and he filed suit in Pinellas County Court asking for $15,000 in damages. Eventually, both sides agreed to arbitration and the case, which came to be known as "Assault with a Breast," ended up on The People's Court
in front of former New York City mayor Ed Koch. Koch ruled in Tawny's favor, finding the breasts "too soft to inflict pain."
Peaks, who appeared on the cover of a 1999 Playboy
, had her implants removed in 2002 after retiring from show business. EBay auction 5561537389 offered one of those implants autographed by the former exotic dancer.
Bidding began at $1, and, as the breast attracted more and more attention from the media and viewing public, the price skyrocketed. In total, 575,125 people visited the auction during its run on eBay. After 66 bids the notorious eBay connoisseur GoldenPalace.com walked away victorious, agreeing to pay $16,766 for the treasure. The casino also received an autographed copy of the court complaint. There is no word yet on how the implant will be put to use.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Grilled Cheese Madonna and 99 Other of the Weirdest, Wackiest, Most Famous eBay Auctions Ever by Christopher Cihlar. Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Cihlar. Excerpted by permission of Crown Archetype, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.