When it comes to advertising, many companies tend think the bigger the better, making a statement by pursuing colossal television advertisements, mammoth billboards and viral social media crusades. But there's one thing they don't typically court: advertising space on the foreheads of Nebraskan men. So when 20-year-old Andrew Fischer auctioned off 30 days of advertising space on his forehead to the highest bigger on eBay, most people expected his offer to be laughed off the site. Instead, it went on to become one of the biggest viral marketing campaigns of its day, and one that would see him clinch a $50,000 paycheck.
Back in 2005, with Facebook and Twitter only just kicking off, going viral wasn't the norm as it is today. In fact, if you mentioned something "viral", someone would probably give you a funny look and tell you to get yourself down to the doctors. But this was about to change, thanks to Fischer's sales pitch on eBay.
According to an article he wrote more than 10 years later, his brilliant idea came about when he clocked onto the fact that bizarre items that were selling for extreme prices online. Go on eBay in the mid-2000s and you would find grilled cheese sandwich with the face of the Virgin Mary burnt onto it, a grandad's walking stick which held supernatural secrets and haunted rubber ducks, all selling for phenomenal figures. So, Andrew thought, why not sell advertising space on his forehead? On the face of it (sorry), he sounds a little bonkers - but even he had no conception of just how successful his brainwave would be.
Believing that, if he played his cards right, the campaign was just about weird enough to hit the headlines and secure him fame and fortune, Andrew got to work. Writing an auction description - in which he described himself as an "average Joe", seemingly giving people little reason to give him any money at all - and producing a digital self-portrait cartoon with a “Your Ad Here” forehead tattoo, he set his starting price at one penny, well aware that he had to start low in order to gradually gain attention from the public and media.
Writing about his budding campaign, he said: "I posted the listing and low and behold, the bids started coming in. One cent. 10 cents. 3 dollars a few days later. My parents were cautiously optimistic, having grown accustomed to my “idea man” personality over the years. Some of my friends and co-workers joked about it and even put in a few pity bids up to $60. Give your buddy a forehead tattoo for 30 days that says whatever you wanted for less than $100? It was a no-brainer. And I couldn’t be more thankful that it eventually became too expensive for pranksters like my friends to afford."
With his eBay account gaining more and more traffic, Andrew decided it was a perfect time to take his campaign to the media. He turned out to be right - his idea was just about loopy enough to get everyone interested. Soon enough, he found himself being interviewed on over one hundred radio shows and dozens of entertainment websites, and making multiple appearances on local TV. Suddenly an insignificant, slightly ridiculous campaign had become a massive story in the news - and a big money-making opportunity. But what Andrew didn't know is that he was being built up to fail...
As the bids continued to pour in, the Omaha native invited all of his family and friends around for the big night where one final bid would decide which company would win the ad space on his forehead. Crowded around his computer, as they counted down the seconds, tension was at an all-time high. Who would get in that all-important final bid? And more importantly, how much would Andrew get for it?
However, his first endeavour for success in the advertising world crashed and burned. As his main bidders turned a blind eye, he was hoodwinked by a deceptive last-minute bidder: "I sat in front of my bulky CRT monitor, hitting refresh as the final moments ticked by. A few more bids. $28,000… $29,000," he wrote. "It was over, but I had a sinking feeling about it. I didn’t recognize the winning bidder, and none of the bidders that had been in touch with me throughout the past few days had actually put in a bid in the 11th hour. Within the next few days, I learned that the winning bidder had been a prankster—set out to bid solely to ruin the auction for me. I was devastated."
For a second, it looked like Andrew's dream to go viral was all over... until a call from Good Morning America changed everything once again. The young entrepreneur was flown to New York for an interview on the early morning television show and was soon inundated with invitations from other big name TV networks and newspapers. Launching a second auction on eBay, it was game on.
About a week later, the web designer found himself once again huddled in front of his CRT monitor, surrounded by family and friends. The clock counted down; this was his last chance to make viral history. With "mere moments to spare", the final bid was placed for $37,375, a number he claims he will never forget. This time around, the winner was real and, after weeks promoting his forehead as an advertising space, Andrew proceeded to wear a temporary tattoo on his forehead for exactly 30 days. The winning product? SnoreStop, a snoring remedy.
At the end of it all, Andrew walked away with around $50,000 for just a mere month of forehead advertising. Not to mention, trips around the world, a Grammy's Award show invite, celebrity encounters and all-round extraordinary fame. While his story is no doubt an utterly ridiculous one, there are many out there who would also herald his idea as sheer genius. Who'd have genuinely thought that one man could earn $50,000 from selling his forehead as a second-class billboard?
Looking back in 2017, Andrew's idea inspired hundreds of copycats who attempted to sell different parts of their body, with necks, pregnant bellies, upper arms, hands, stomachs, lower backs all being put up for auction - some semi-permanent, others not... In addition, his tale is one of the first true instances of viral fame. With word of his campaign having travelled all the way around the world, for a long time afterwards the young Nebraskan - who now works as the editor of news site, PopMalt - couldn't step foot outside without having someone go "aren't you the forehead guy?"
With viral stories vanishing within the blink of an eye nowadays, his story is one of the few that we look set to remember for some time to come, and the rental of his forehead will no doubt be forever remembered as one of the strangest things ever to sell on eBay. It's a lesson in how thinking outside the box can take the average American to places they never expect - even if you do have to be known as "the forehead guy" for the next however many years of your life.