To avert foreclosure, firm turns homes into ad space

Sarah, Beth, and Scott Hostetler of Buena Park, Calif., were the first to try the program.
Sarah, Beth, and Scott Hostetler of Buena Park, Calif., were the first to try the program.BRAINIACS FROM MARS

Would you let a company paint your house in Gumby green and neon tangerine as the background for corporate logos and other advertising? What if the company paid your mortgage?

That’s the deal California advertising executive Romeo Mendoza is offering as he launches a somewhat altruistic — some might say obnoxious — campaign here and across the nation to promote his new marketing firm, Brainiacs from Mars. Mendoza’s targets for the loud paint jobs and corporate sponsorship are struggling homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure.

The Orange, Calif., company has already received inquiries from more than 100 Boston homeowners, including a veteran facing foreclosure because his disability compensation isn’t enough to cover the mortgage on his Waltham home, a Framingham father struggling to make house payments because he took a substantial pay cut after losing his previous job, and a Peabody parent whose paycheck is stretched thin trying to cover tuition payments for a son, the first in the family to go to college. The company declined to name applicants.

Mendoza said he recognizes that he’ll run up against neighborhood opposition and local and state laws restricting — or banning — outdoor advertising. But, he added, he’ll take on those issues as they come.


“Most of the applications, I’d say 90 percent, are people in need, people who have lost a job,” Mendoza said. “They’re all compelling stories.”

Grace Ross, coordinator of the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, said that while quirky, Mendoza’s campaign might have merit. It would be even better, she added, if the attention received by houses painted by Brainiacs from Mars helped erase the stigma of foreclosure.

“People assume that it’s shameful,” she said. “If part of what this did is change that attitude that still lingers, that would be a huge gift.

Mendoza came up with the idea last year while driving his 6-year-old daughter home from school. She noticed a sign in front of a house that said “Bank Owned.” As Mendoza explained to her what “bank owned” meant, he felt distaste for foreclosures, and sympathy for those in that position, many through no fault of their own.


“A light bulb just kind of went off,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘You know, we buy ad space all the time. Why don’t we buy ad space on this guy’s house and then we’ll pay the mortgage in return?’ ”

Brainiacs from Mars started soliciting interest from homeowners. Several weeks and about 40,000 applications later, painters armed with bright green and orange hues were stepping around the pygmy palms and sea bass-shaped mailbox outside a Buena Park, Calif., home. The owners needed help with their $2,000-a-month mortgage.

The colors stayed for two months, though the ad Mendoza’s firm put up — for itself — violated city code and only remained long enough to take a few photos. The brightly colored house still did its job, attracting the attention of passersby, and leading to numerous segments on TV news stations and stories in local papers.

Neighbors were shocked at first, Mendoza said, but came to recognize that preventing foreclosures would be good for the neighborhood and property values. “The moment you explain it, they get it,” he said. “If we save this family from foreclosure, it helps them.”

The company hopes to paint at least 3,000 homes across the country, and about 100 internationally. It began promoting the effort earlier this month through Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website. Mendoza said he has heard from a national paint brand interested in donating supplies. Potential advertisers, including a well-known travel site and Hollywood movie studio, have also expressed interest.


Mendoza said his firm has received scores of applications from homeowners in Massachusetts, including 134 in Boston alone. But how the Brainiacs from Mars campaign will play out in Massachusetts is tricky because advertising is regulated at both municipal and state levels.

While Mendoza’s firm might get permission for an ad from city or town officials, it would also need approval of the state’s Office of Outdoor Advertising. Under current state regulations, the board won’t permit any new signs painted on walls or located outside of an area with a “business character.”

But Brainiacs from Mars could follow a similar approach as in Buena Park, Calif., painting the house in bright wild colors and briefly attaching removable ads. Many municipalities, including Boston, would let the firm paint a house whatever colors it wants.

“We don’t regulate color, per se. The advertising, yes,” said Lisa Timberlake, a spokeswoman for Boston’s Inspectional Services Department.

Mendoza is sure that the houses his firm paints will draw enough attention to satisfy advertisers while also putting a spotlight on the nation’s problem with foreclosures.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.