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Ear and Loathing

[whitespace] Don Jeffcoat

Piercing remarks of a soap star in a mall

By Justin Berton

CALL IT A STRANGE cause-and-effect marketing formula, perhaps even genius: when ears get pierced, soap opera stars pop up in Sunnyvale. I know, it's strange. But on a recent Saturday afternoon, as rain pounded outside the Sunnyvale Town Center, Don Jeffcoat of daytime TV's One Life to Live sat in a green folding chair signing mug shots for gushing fans.

A few helium-filled balloons taped to the wall in front of the earring outlet helped mark the spot of his celebrity.

Jeffcoat, a.k.a. bad boy Joey Buchanan in his day job as a soap star, flew to Silicon Valley from his Manhattan home for the weekend. Publicity gigs like these help the 23-year-old actor make a few extra bucks.

"The cost of rent in Manhattan," Jeffcoat discovered, "is really expensive."

Jeffcoat might have viewed the event as "an excuse to get off that island," as he put it, but in reality he was a pawn in a much larger scheme.

He was, in fact, the grand prize in "The Soap Star Sweetheart's Ear Piercing Challenge."

Four years ago, Inverness Corporation--the world's largest manufacturer of ear-piercing products--created an employee incentive contest to raise sales. At the time, the company's employee contests lacked heartfelt participation, said Bill Garry, vice president of national accounts.

"We found that the employees could go out and get whatever they wanted on their own," Garry noted of the prizes initially offered. "So we tried creating a little fantasy."

Garry looked at the demographics for soap-opera viewers and was impressed: "Female. Ages between 10 and somewhere around 80," he recalled. A meet-and-greet with a soap star, he figured, "would be an acceptable prize for anyone working at an afterthoughts store."

For store manager Maria Acevedo and the other four female employees who worked hard to become the winners in the Western region, picking Jeffcoat as their star was simple. "We chose him because he's ... him," Acevedo said.

Acevedo estimated the store increased sales by more than 100 percent from last year.

Neither Acevedo nor her district manager, Sherrie Smittle, would reveal how many pierced ears that translates to, or how much in sales of merchandise.

Acevedo's job on Saturday was to snap Polaroids of Jeffcoat and his fans, all of whom Jeffcoat put a warm arm around.

But piercing hasn't always been rewarded with a snuggle from one of daytime's hottest hunks.

Twenty years ago, two brothers created the revolutionary "Inverness Ear Piercing System," helping to make ear piercing an efficient process. The breakthrough technology delivered the earring through the lobe quickly and crisply, kind of like a paper hole-puncher, only smaller. Before Inverness came along, a potato slice, a needle and a loop of string were the usual tools.

Today, Garry said, Inverness claims revenues "in excess of $30 million a year." The contest has been going like gangbusters, he said, creating "a carryover effect that has just been phenomenal," which we take to mean that a lot of people in this female-dominated industry tried hard to win the visit with Jeffcoat, but fell short.

The company, according to publicist Suzanne Lane, is responsible for piercing 2 million ears annually. That equates to roughly the same number of people who curse Don Jeffcoat for actions taken by his character, Joey Buchanan.

"This is off the book," Jeffcoat confided, using a phrase I've never heard before. "But some people," he said in a hush, "need to get off the couch."

Back on the book, whatever that is, Jeffcoat did confess, "Some people don't understand. I'm Don Jeffcoat, not Joey Buchanan."

He's also not Susan Lucci.

Garry said when he first approached the networks with the idea for the "Soap Star Sweethearts Ear Piercing Challenge," a hands-off hierarchy of soap-star status emerged. Even within the soaps, there seem to be B-lists.

"Each year, we know in advance which stars we can and can't get," Garry said. "For instance, Susan Lucci--you could never get her. But him [Jeffcoat], he was one of the ones we could."

With that in mind, a particularly cruel question popped into my head as I sat next to Jeffcoat: "When you dreamed of becoming an actor, Don, did you ever imagine yourself as a soap opera B-lister who spent his weekends signing autographs outside an ear-piercing booth in an empty mall on a rainy Saturday afternoon?"

Just as fast I realized that Jeffcoat was probably sharp enough to turn the question on me. Suddenly I thought better of asking him.

But I didn't leave before having Acevedo take a Polaroid of me and my new friend. (Jeffcoat didn't put his arm around me, though.) I also didn't leave until he autographed a black-and-white mug shot of himself. Jeffcoat wrote, "Thanks for all the support, bro!"

No, bro--thank you, and all the little people on the couch.

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From the November 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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