Most homeowners would happily skip the passive-aggressive exchanges with their fellow neighbors that would likely follow turning a house's exterior into a giant billboard.
But what if the commitment was temporary and the company paid your mortgage in exchange for the unconventional ad space?
That's the arrangement marketing executive Romeo Mendoza is pitching to promote his California-based firm Brainiacs From Mars. Based on initial reactions, his out-of-the-box advertising scheme isn't all that far-fetched, especially for homeowners struggling to make their monthly housing payments.
"It's a pretty simple concept," says Mendoza, founder and CEO. "You let us paint an ad on your house and we'll pay your mortgage."
Mendoza came up with the idea after driving past a foreclosed home with his daughter.
"That's nothing you want to have to explain to a six-year-old, but it's reality, and being a dad you always want to try to turn a negative into a positive," Mendoza says. "We passed a house near our neighborhood that had one window and it was just a blank slate. The light bulb just went off."
Soon after, Mendoza began gauging interest from homeowners, and the response was overwhelming. Just three days after the company advertised the program, 10,000 applications had poured in, the vast majority from financially struggling homeowners on the brink of foreclosure. To date, the company has fielded more than 44,000 applications, the majority from smaller towns in "Middle America," Mendoza says.
Interest is fanning out and finding traction in big metropolitan areas such as Boston and New York City, as well as the United Kingdom and Japan. But regardless of location, the story behind the struggles is usually the same, he says.
"These are usually people in extreme need," Mendoza says. "They've lost their jobs [or] they're on active military duty and have fallen behind on their bills."
After sifting through thousands of applications, the company settled on a property in Buena Park, Calif. for its first attempt, with homeowners that needed help covering their $2,000-a-month mortgage payment. The painters were called in, and Brainiacs From Mars' trademark orange and green hues were smeared across the exterior of the house.
The reaction from surrounding neighbors and passersby was a mixture of shock and awe, Mendoza says.
"We weren't sure how the loud colors would play out," he says. "I called into the painter and he said people's jaws were just dropping. We got a lot of traffic. People were literally stopping their cars in the street."
While one of the initial goals of the company's ad campaign was to achieve those "jaw-dropping" reactions and demonstrate Brainiacs From Mars' creative approach to marketing and advertising — the company has since attracted the attention of two auto manufacturers, a major discount retail store, and two movie studios — the core focus of helping neighborhoods overcome the scourge of foreclosure has remained intact and strengthened.
Despite the loud colors, the company's test run with the Buena Park property seems to have caught on with the surrounding community, which has only emboldened the scope of the project. The company initially hoped to plaster ads on 100 homes a year, but that number has now grown to 3,000 beginning in 2013.
"The response we got from the community was far more than we expected," Mendoza says. "The community really rallied behind this."
Based on the response, Brainiacs From Mars has set up an indiegogo page to attract more potential homes for their advertising campaign and raise money to help make mortgage payments. While the site certainly doesn't gloss over the ills of the foreclosure crisis, the makers aren't shy about the end result of the project.
"We're looking for houses to paint. In fact, paint is an understatement," the site says. "We're looking for homes to turn into billboards."
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Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.