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Selling baby Jake | Woman offers son as advertising to highest bidder
The Associated Press
Every mom thinks her baby is the cutest. Traci Hogg has turned that conviction into a business — if not an obsession.
Hogg thinks her 15-month-old, Jake, is so adorable that someone will want to fork over $100,000 to use him as advertising for a year. She started a Web site, www.buyjake.com, where companies can bid on her son.
"When I'm taking him places, everyone seems to notice him and notice what he's wearing," she said from her home in Huntersville, N.C. "They always say he wears the cutest outfits, and I thought, someone should be paying me to put their logo on him. He gets so much attention."
If this seems a little like "Gypsy," or perhaps a cautionary tale about child labor laws, Hogg swears it's all in good fun. The Web site is written from little Jake's point of view, and pictures of him are superimposed with photos of Ellen DeGeneres and other stars. Hogg hopes a company will want to, um, rent Jake for the year, or for a month, or maybe a week. For the right price, she'll dress Jake in onesies and/or baby hats and T-shirts with the company's logo.
"I really think they'd get their money's worth out of Jake," said Hogg, 36. "It doesn't have to be a baby-related company, but it has to be approved by me — it can't be vulgar."
It is true that Jake is cute — big blue eyes, a cute smile and a squished-up nose — but cute enough to warrant $100,000? So far, she's had one bid from a company called Perfectpopcorn.com, which puts home movies on DVD. They are offering $350 for one month. Hogg is holding out for more; she is hoping to start a bidding war.
All for Jake?
In an interview, Hogg came off as eager for publicity, even suggesting a headline for this story. She claims no personal desire for fame, but in a blog for another venture, newbabyhomepage.com, she features Photoshopped pictures of herself with DeGeneres alongside those of her son.
Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist in Maryland and chairman of the television and media committee of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, said Hogg is exposing Jake to danger by plastering his photos on the Internet.
"Who knows what kind of pedophile is trolling Web sites looking for young people," he said.
"There's so much pressure now," he said. "Kids can't just take the SATs, they have to have tutors. They can't just play outside, they have to be on a competitive sports team. ... Can't we just let kids be kids for a while before we force them into work?"
Hogg isn't the first to come up with the child billboard idea. Earlier this year, a St. Louis woman auctioned off rights to advertise on her baby's clothing for $1,000. Last year, a Connecticut woman sold the right to name her baby for $15,500 to online casino GoldenPalace.com — a site that also paid for ad space on a woman's cleavage and on the stomachs of a pregnant woman and a 400-pound man. The child's name is Golden Palace Benedetto.
The pull of a cute kid is undeniable in advertising, said Walter Guarino, author of "How to Evaluate Advertising," even if over-the-top stage mothers are usually at the root.
Hogg, a stay-at-home-mom, says whatever money she makes will go into a savings account for Jake. She doesn't think he'll be upset about all this when he gets older, or that her other son — 5-year-old David — will grow up with a complex that his younger brother is cuter.
"It's all for Jake. We're not trying to use him for our profit," she said.
She hopes to get Jake commercial gigs and guest appearances on talk shows, but first she's got to get a youth employment certificate. Jake already has experience in this department: Hogg auctioned him off on eBay when he was 5- months-old. His services for a month sold for $1,050 to technology developer S Call Communications for their security program ChatGuard, which protects children from online predators in chat rooms.
Certainly many children are used in ads with no apparent ill effects.
"They had a birthday party for the Gerber baby when she turned 40," said Guarino, an advertising professor at Seton Hall. "She didn't look too upset about being the Gerber baby. It all depends on whether it's tasteful. A good mom isn't going to let her kid be the Enron baby or anything."
Hogg doesn't give much thought to her critics. "Some people are really turned off by the idea, but I don't really care," she said. "You have to do something different to get your child noticed. There's a lot of other adorable kids out there, but I wanted to create a lot of buzz."
Hogg's determined to make baby Jake a star. Jake hasn't learned to talk yet, so he had no comment on the matter.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company