After the down-on-one-knee part and the surprise of a sparkling ring, and the tears and hugs and promises, Jodi Gilbert completed what has become the final component of the modern engagement ritual: the Facebook post.
As a sort-of wisecrack — the cost of the wedding was quickly dawning on her — she hashtagged the picture, with brand-new fiancé David Grzybowski: #lookingforaweddingsponsorship.
Five months later, with the venue booked and the date set for June 2018, it's no longer a joke: Gilbert, who works in public relations, and Grzybowski, a former reporter for WPHL-TV, are on the hunt for sponsors large and small, pledging to turn their marriage into a (one hopes) once-in-lifetime marketing opportunity for the right company. They're thinking company logos on every table, a decal on the dance floor, advertisements tucked into the wedding invitations — or, perhaps, a first dance brought to you by First Bank.
Grzybowski is hoping viral potential will close the deal.
"I think what companies would get out of it is something that's cool to be a part of. Obviously, you can't promise this will be seen by a million people—but, in our perfect world, it would be," he said.
Some of their siblings have been asking, is nothing sacred?
But the Cherry Hill couple, both 26, said they take the marriage seriously. It's the wedding they're willing to experiment with.
They both grew up in the area and met seven years ago, while they were students at La Salle. They've been together ever since. Last year, they moved to Raleigh, N.C., so Grzybowski could pursue a dream job at a CBS station there. But within two months of their move, both their mothers were diagnosed with cancer.
"We stuck it out for a year, then moved back," Grzybowski said.
Suddenly, there was a sense of urgency to planning the wedding, whether or not they had the savings to pull it off. Their mothers, they figured, needed something to look forward to — and as soon as possible.
But Grzybowski is still looking for work and, what with student loans, money's tight. So, they hired a graphic designer to make a logo, they're developing a package of sponsorship opportunities, and they're courting Instagram influencers for the guest list. (They're still tinkering with possible hashtags. Candidates so far include the unwieldy #GettinGrzyWithIt.)
One could imagine a suit jacket covered in logos, NASCAR-style, or a wedding-gown-as-billboard. Gilbert said she's not willing to go quite that far: "Maybe on the bottom of my shoes?"
They're hoping to play up their Philly roots by appealing to local companies — Philly Pretzel Factory, Peanut Chews. And, they have some national sponsors in mind. "I want to reach out to K-Swiss. I know they're kind of rebranding right now, so it could be a cool relationship. I want to see if I can rock the shoe with my groomsmen," Grzybowski said.
His always-be-closing approach to always-and-forever may not be surprising in a culture where sponsorships are ubiquitous — even in arenas that, up until recently, had been left unmonetized.
Over the last couple decades, Philly has knocked down stadiums named in memory of people and replaced them with ones named for companies — see Citizens Bank Park, which in 2004 went for $57.5 million in naming rights. It's accessed easily from a subway stop that, thanks to a $5 million deal, is now known as AT&T Station. Across town, Market East, for the price of $4 million, has morphed into Jefferson Station, while the Kimmel Center is running a $100 million naming-rights campaign of its own. To travel between them all, one can use the IndeGo bike share, named for and made possible by an Independence Blue Cross sponsorship.
Those examples, among many others, speak to one of the darker premonitions of dystopian science-fiction writers: the friendly corporate takeover of our collective consciousness. (See: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, in which calendar years are no longer numbered but named, as in, "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.")
Still, given the ballooning size of the average wedding budget — now exceeding $35,000, according to a survey by The Knot — sponsorship has its appeal. A Maryland couple that fell in love at IKEA got the furniture chain to throw them an in-store wedding in 2012. In 2006, a couple persuaded the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team to host a postgame ceremony on the field, with backing from 1800flowers.com and Entenmann's, among others.
Americus Reed, marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said it's likely Gilbert and Grzybowski will find marketers ready to sign on. After all, in the DVR era, companies have had to get more creative to reach consumers, and product placement on social media has been part of the solution.
But, he warned, "You have to do it in a way that's really organic, credible, and authentic, that shows the brand isn't just selling something, but they're interested in this influencer's life and lifestyle."
"The worst thing you can possibly do is mistake marketing shtick for true influencers," he said. "The shtick artists, they want to create a transaction — and that can be sniffed out by consumers easily."
There are also regulatory issues: After the Federal Trade Commission warned top Instagrammers about undisclosed paid content, Instagram began requiring a tag identifying sponsored posts.
Plus, he said, guests might not be charmed. "I think, what if a friend told me they were doing this? I would be immediately turned off by it, like, 'Why are they monetizing me as a member of their social network?' "
Still, if the couple can pull it off, it may be worth it, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
His colleagues recently conducted a study of married couples, and found a correlation between the size of a wedding and the couple's long-term marital bliss. Of couples who had 50 or fewer wedding guests, 31 percent reported a high-quality marriage; that rose to 47 percent for couples with more than 150 guests.
"It could be people who have a large network of friends and family members are going to be more social or more integrated into a community," he said. "Or it could be causal: the experience of taking a vow before a greater number of people might make you a bit more intentional, or involving a larger network of people from the start may give you more support."
Meanwhile, he said, other research has linked more expensive weddings with higher divorce rates, and greater levels of consumer debt with less stable marriages.
"The bottom line is, having a big, relatively cheap wedding is the way to go," he said.