It’s true. You can get paid to drive your own car – whether to work, to church, to your kids’ soccer games or any of your other normal destinations.

You won’t get rich doing this, mind you, but in these recessionary times, taking in an extra $300 to $900 a month can definitely come in handy for a lot of folks.

These "brand driver" promotions are run by a special segment of the advertising industry that pays regular people to affix vinyl decals to their cars – decals that, at first glance, appear to be painted on the vehicle.

These decals are known as "auto wraps" in the business, and they typically consist of the logo of a particular company or brand. Or, the "wrap" may have a message, like the "Follow Me to Find Out How to Get to the Closest I-Hop" wrap used by one company for its client, the International House of Pancakes.

This niche form of advertising has been around for about 10 years, and initially, the firms would actually provide people with cars that had been painted with the client’s company logo or brand.

"But it soon became clear that was not a cost-effective approach, because the cost of leasing the cars was just too high," said Drew Livingston, president of Free Car Media, in Los Angeles. "So we began using the wraps, which are made from 3M vinyl."

Livingston said that, during the middle of this decade, his business slowed down a bit, as internet advertising became more of the "go-to" choice for advertisers. But since the recession began, business is back up.

"A lot of people are looking for ways to make extra cash," he said.

Free Car Media generally pays its drivers anywhere from $700 to $900 a month, and typically requires the driver to log about 1,000 miles a month, depending on the city, said Livingston.

And, whether or not you’re chosen from the large number of applicants depends on a few factors. These include where you live, where you drive, the location of your commute, whether you have children, their ages, your favorite activities and what kinds of events you attend.

"We have a lot of people to choose from, so who we choose depends on those factors" Livingston said. "And also what our clients’ needs are and who the clients are trying to reach."

Some of the Free Car Media clients / brands whose logos have adorned cars are Proctor & Gamble, Coke, Tang, Lacoste and the Vault energy drink.

"Plus, we did one for Curly’s (a pulled-pork product sold in grocery stores), a campaign that targeted moms and kids, so our drivers had coupons with ‘em for the product," he said. "Many of the drivers maintained blogs that informed potential customers about the product."

DrivenMedia, a similar "auto-wrap" agency founded two years ago in Phoenix, uses the same criteria when choosing drivers. They pay their drivers $300 to $500 a month, specializing in "local, family-oriented companies and products," said owner Brandon Clarke.

"We tend to look for people who are maybe stay-at-home moms," Clarke said. "Or, people who are active in their kids' school, and drive them to soccer games, or church activities and community events."

DrivenMedia is talking to some potential national clients, though, so the company may be looking to add more drivers in the near future.

"But we’re not really looking for someone to drive up and down a certain freeway six times a day," Clarke said. "We’re more interested in people who are plugged in to their community, so that, when they drive up and their car has a logo on it, people will ask them about it. Then, our driver can talk about the product or company, and give other people information on it – or hand out coupons or menus, if the business being advertised is a restaurant.

"So we want people who are outgoing, and friendly, and interact a lot with people in their community, and who are not afraid to talk to strangers about the product," he said. "And we focus on longer-term programs, like six to nine months, so that the brand has a chance to really be plugged in to that driver’s circle of influence."

Agencies like Free Car Media and DrivenMedia also often look for drivers who feel strongly about a certain product or brand. "That’s on our questionnaire," said Clarke – "We ask them what brands and companies and products they use, or are passionate about. And we have a big fan following on Facebook as well."

Both Free Car Media and DrivenMedia have websites where potential drivers can sign up – for free -- and have their names entered into their databases.

Livingston cautions against companies that try to charge you to sign up.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous companies that will ask you to pay $30 to find out about companies like ours," Livingston said. "They have names that sound similar to ours, and they scam consumers all the time."

Clarke issues a similar warning.

While many of the drivers are stay-at-home moms or working people who need the extra cash, others want to have their cars wrapped just because they have a strong feeling about the product.

"We have one lady who is a educational consultant, who lives in New Rochelle, New York, so she doesn’t need the $350," Clark said. "But in her case, she really loves the brand, which in this case is a local science center.

"Those are the situations that are great for us, because the person will really engage their friends and other members of the community when asked about the decal on their car."

One unique Driven Media "promo drive" in Phoenix was for a client that wanted the vehicle at "every Phoenix Cardinals home game, in addition to their regular driving activities," Clarke said. "The driver had a ’36 Ford hot rod and he cruised around the parking lot while fans were tailgating. His engine was pretty loud, so he got a lot of attention – so that one worked out really well for us."

One factor that can have an impact on someone’s desire to become a brand driver is fuel prices. When gasoline was $4 a gallon in mid-2008, there was a slight drop in interest, because driving was so much more expensive as a result. But enthusiasm returned when gas prices dropped, said Clarke.

Of course, in addition to being a way for everyday folks to make a few extra dollars, an auto-wrap program is also an effective method to get an advertiser’s image and message out there – in a way that’s more personal than a TV ad or billboard.

"I think it helps the advertiser look good in the eyes of the consumer, because the advertiser is paying these individuals, so they’re putting money into the community," Livingston said. "And, it’s more experiential in nature – our clients essentially are getting a chance to have a conversation with the consumer, because we ask the drivers to keep track of any feedback they get from other people in the community, and then relay it to us.

"Companies like ours are unique – we’re not doing what everyone else does – we don’t compete against traditional media."

Read More:

- Confessions of an Auto Mechanic
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