Homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages often go to great lengths to make monthly payments. But is transforming their homes into eye-popping billboards going a step too far? That question should be on the minds of Massachusetts neighborhood groups and policymakers as the California-based marketing firm Brainiacs from Mars prepares to turn entire Bay State homes into brightly colored advertisements for corporate sponsors. Balancing the needs of underwater homeowners with the rights of their neighbors will require some pragmatic diligence.
On one hand, the company’s tactic is brilliantly altruistic: For every month that homeowners agree to have their homes painted colors like astroturf green and construction-cone orange and have sponsors’ logos affixed to their facades, Brainiacs from Mars will pay their mortgage, no questions asked. For many, that scheme could be the key to staving off foreclosure.
But it could also anger neighbors who don’t want to live next to obnoxiously colored billboards for months at a time. And, for the scheme to work, Brainiacs from Mars may have to exploit loopholes in the regulations banning advertising in residential areas. To skirt those regulations, the firm puts up signs long enough to take publicity photos and then removes them before officials can take action. It may be a clever strategy, but it also violates the spirit of the rules.
According to the maverick marketing firm, 134 homeowners in Boston have already applied to participate in the program. That popularity speaks to the desperation many homeowners feel, and to society’s shifting attitudes toward foreclosures. Ten years ago, a family might have done anything to keep their financial troubles a secret from their neighbors. Today, that stigma carries less of a sting — which explains why a handful of homes could be receiving a neon makeover in the coming months.
But it also presents town officials and neighborhood associations with a difficult choice: to cope with the paint jobs and help struggling neighbors stay in their homes, or to take preemptive action to prevent Brainiacs from Mars from coming to their neighborhoods. Both are understandable positions. While most people would rather not live next to a neon orange monstrosity, most people don’t want to see their neighbors evicted, either. In today’s tough economy, a little flexibility might be in order.