09/28/2010 04:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Billboard Family' Puts Itself -- Kids and All -- On Sale

It's no surprise that we've come to this: there's a family for sale on the Internet.

No, these aren't hostages held by Somali pirates or advertised on a Craigslist adult S&M posting. I'm talking about a middle American family that may have willingly, enthusiastically crossed the line between personal brand management and indentured servitude.

Anyone with a digital footprint is selling themselves these days. But in the spooky wasteland where product placement meets slavery, you will find the Martins.

Not to diss entrepreneurial spirit in a down economy. Patriarch Carl Martin told me today that "overall, this has been the best decision we have ever made."

The Martins call themselves "The Billboard Family," with what ad industry site Adrants says is "an offering that allows advertisers to own the Martin's lives." Yikes. Dad Carl, mom Amy and kids Layne and Kaitlyn have turned themselves into human signage. With a social media upsell.

I know they're serious but it's a pretty funny pitch on their website. "We are a REAL family of 4 (with one on the way) who wears YOUR COMPANY SHIRTS all day long, taking loads of photos and videos. We then promote your company online on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and our Website, as well as to all of the many people who ask us why we are all wearing the same shirts."

Uh, because you're from St. Louis?

Carl says "most of the companies we have already reached out to are ones whose products we use." Their "main demographic is family oriented companies, being that we are a real family." Still, "we are happy to advertise for any companies that do not violate our terms and conditions."

They may be an actual family, but potential sponsors usually like organic reality, as in real doctors who prescribe Nexium in their practice, not people just selling their endorsement. But on their video, the likable Martins even show a sonogram snap of their unborn child.

Getting a t-shirt on a fetus might be tough.

I was just about to ask the marketing department here about inking a deal for the Martins to wear Chronicle t-shirts -- you have to send them the shirts; like Google, they don't make products. Then I wondered just how many people might actually notice what the family is wearing.

No worries there. The Martins "travel and take vacations frequently" from their Missouri home to places like Chicago, Seattle, and Walt Disney World (where at might be hard to stand out among people wearing black socks and bermudas). "We have plans to travel much more in the near future."

Don't we all?

They also have 2,700 followers on Twitter and 200 Facebook fans. (Over 2,500," Carl says, if you include friends on personal pages.) Not exactly the makings of a viral stampede. "Many of our followers help spread the word," according to Carl. "The potential to reach a large audience is there."

The "Billboard Family" also has two competitors: I Wear Your Shirt (Carl: "They are not family-centric") and Girl In Your Shirt (doesn't sound very family-centric).

In their "About Us" section they have more personal stats for each of them than the average big league ball player: eye color, favorite color, height, weight and shoe size.

How else would you ever know that four-year-old Layne wants a Power Wheels Cadillac Escalade? Carl's dream job is to be a "professional t-shirt wearer", which makes sense given this particular value-added business proposition.

Carl, who has a computer sciences degree, was "inspired" in this new enterprise "by his desire to make a respectable living." Well, who these days can really afford to make fun of that?

Also, he said to me he "really wanted to teach our kids about self-reliance and business..They're very young but they have been very involved..They also love the attention."

The Martin site is thick with optimism, including nifty separate sections for them to publish all their "National Press, "Local Press", and "Other Media Outlets." They're all empty. I wonder where my blog post will go.

They also have Yelp-like social media page for clients who write "a review of our services." Empty. Also a place for Flickr photos and YouTube videos. Zip. Except a short about the Martins. To be fair, they only launched a few days ago.

But in the "Only 84 Days left for sale!" calendar, 30 of them are filled with "SOLD" signs, all for around $550 per, calculated by their graduated pricing formula throughout the year (Would you rather have four people wearing your brand on their tees or buy an iPad?).

So far one advertiser -- "Studio-R" -- has bought the Martins for a day, according to the calendar. And they boast that their October through November "Non-Profit slots [are] filled" by a children's literacy program, "Everybody WINS!"

Maybe they do. Here I am writing about them. Besides, it's a buyer's market out there and who's to say the Martins aren't the next big thing in digital marketing services?