Turning your wedding into a commercial
Once television reality shows started commercializing
romance, it was only a matter of time before it came to this: Sponsored
weddings, a trend grabbing attention everywhere from bridal magazines
to ABC News broadcasts.
The concept is to turn your wedding into a commercial,
with everything from the bride's bra to the cake knife brought to
you by local merchants in exchange for their name plastered on programs,
seating cards and even T-shirt giveaways at the door. The occasional
daring couple promises two verbal mentions during the evening, cleverly
working business names into their toasts.
So far, the approach has saved Christina Vincelli
and Jevon Gantner, an Atlanta couple planning to marry in May 2005,
approximately $15,000. This past June, Todd Weiss and Debbie Lay
tied the knot in Kansas City without shelling out cash for the tuxes,
candles, decorations, catering, reception hall, wedding cake, videography,
rehearsal dinner, DJ, programs, mints, attendants' gifts, a Web
site host and a dog sitter. Even Todd's wedding ring was sponsored.
"A lot of people think it's tacky, but we don't
care," says Vincelli. "We're going to have a great wedding."
She claims she's not as motivated by the money as she is by the
thrill of a challenge and the lure of a gamble.
But you know there's a catch: Pulling off a sponsored
wedding isn't exactly easy. In fact, Weiss figured it was a lot
more work than planning a regular wedding. Of the 2,000 vendors
Vincelli had approached at press time, she corralled 16 into saying
yes, for a less than 1-percent success rate. She still lacks tuxes,
her gown, the cake, a photographer and horse-and-carriage transportation.
Part of the uphill climb lies with the fact small
business owners need to sell to the wedding market to pay their
bills. According to Diane Niebuhr, owner of Hope's Bridal Boutique
in Atkins, Iowa, she received a better advertising return giving
away a gown in a trade show drawing than she did lending her name
to the Weiss' wedding festivities.
"I did get some promotion in the local papers
-- and Todd tried hard to deliver on his promises," she says.
"But after the wedding I had to ask myself what I got out of
it, and it came up 'not much.' Even all the groomsmen were from
out of town, so they weren't likely to rent from me again."
That's why successful sponsor seekers need a business
plan, says Leah Ingram, author of "Plan Your Wedding in No
Time." "Any business that advertises will look at which
medium will allow it to best reach its target audience in a way
the audience will be most receptive to the message," she says.
So on the surface, table cards saying the centerpiece is from Joe's
Florist and the munchies are brought to you by M&M Candies would
get attention from bored folks waiting for the next round of fun
But you're not finished with the sales pitch. Ingram
suggests couples research to get their ducks in a row before asking
for support. For instance, you anticipate 300 guests, 80 percent
of whom live within a 60-mile radius of the business, and according
to research the average American sends flowers six times a year.
"You may not get everything for free, but if you're really
smart about approaching the business this way, you may be able to
negotiate at least a discount," she adds.
You also need to promise a large wedding; Niebuhr
admits she's nixed several sponsored pitches because the guest list
included only 50 folks. "What am I going to get out of that?"
Vincelli discovered wrapping your wedding in a theme
helps sell it. Her "Gone with the Wind" setup won over
the florist, whose great-grandparents grew up in the same neighborhood
as Margaret Mitchell.
Weiss first mailed introduction packets featuring
color photos of him and Debbie, along with online articles about
sponsored weddings. He busted his butt to get media to cover the
story -- e-mailing media outlets across the United States and a
few international ports to boot. He regularly informed sponsors
of new interview opportunities and any ideas he had to help them
shore up their synergies.
For example, the woman who donated the mints now collaborates
with Hope's Bridal Boutique. He got the jeweler a gig writing articles
for groomsonline.com, which put up the gifts for his attendants.
He printed coupons that rode along in either the invitations or
program to help sponsors track the traffic. And he printed T-shirts
for each guest listing all the sponsors on the back.
It took a little less to impress Marty Zatcoff, who
owns Kincus Fabrics in Philadelphia. He says of his one foray into
sponsored weddings a few years ago, "The bride was not a pig
about it. She didn't pick out $100-a-yard fabric for her wedding
gown. I didn't give her junk, but she was just happy to get what
Still, Zatcoff looks at the experiment as more charity
than advertising. "People said they read about it in the paper,
but some of them were regular customers. It wasn't a great boost,
for sure," he says.
"You have to hold up your end of the bargain.
Free isn't free," Ingram adds. "The truth is some people
may look at this like selling your soul to the devil. This is not
right for every person."