By Charles Hawley in Berlin
That is exactly what a new Berlin company allows German students to do -- as long as they don't mind sticking an advertisement on the back of their laptop screens while they pretend to study.
"We always worked together in a café at university," Christoph Magnussen, 26, co-founder of Smaboo, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "And you always see that when people come in, they always look at your notebooks. We just thought, man, if they always look, why not put an advertisement on it?"
The company that resulted from that brainstorm -- the name Smaboo is a combination of "smart" and "notebook" -- has quickly grown to include 1,200 students sporting ads on their laptops in 30 cities across Germany. And recently, they even got a call from a potential advertising customer in Switzerland.
Magnussen, who recently finished a business degree, started the company with his brother Hendrik and friend Adrian Locher. But far from being merely a lark, the three have a clear business model that they are trying to develop. Christoph Magnussen refers to it as "embedded branding," the idea being that a company has people in their target group do their advertising for them. For example, Debitel, one of Germany's largest mobile service provider, has signed on with Smaboo to sell cell phone subscriptions to university students.
Students who stick an ad on the back of their laptop can earn up to 150 in a few months. The company uses agents at German universities to recruit potential human billboards. In the future, potential advertisers will be matched up with agents entirely through the company's Web site. But so far, Smaboo has no plans to expand beyond using students.
"We are just limiting it to universities for the moment," Magnussen said. "We have a good network of people and that is the most fun part of the whole thing."
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