Think prom is costly? With the ‘promposal,’ it just got even more expensive

  • Students stand near a 34-foot Hummer limo on prom night in the Old Port section of Portland, Maine. Limos and charter buses may still reign as kings for prom transportation as far as costs go but promposals are quickly becoming far more expensive. AP file

  • MICHAEL CONROY / APRepublican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, has even gotten in on the promposal fun recently.

  • YouTubeIn this screenshot from a YouTube video, Wyatt Mann uses an elaborate plan to ask his girlfriend, Ashley, to prom on March 28.

Bloomberg News
Published: 4/30/2016 11:25:41 PM

American parents are accustomed to being treated like human cash machines during prom season, spending close to $1,000 to guarantee that a high school dance doesn’t become an emotional catastrophe. Now they’re looking at shelling out up to hundreds more for a “promposal.”

Asking someone to the prom has taken on new life in the digital era. Teens now plot grandiose events to gain the attention of not only their potential date but everyone else on social media, in turn generating YouTube channels, Twitter fan pages and listicles. The concept first gained web traction in 2011 and now is an institution alongside limo rentals and after parties.

A promposal sometimes involves a lot of not just money but outrageous, often complex, planning. One promposal that went viral involved the purchase of a popular Kanye West sneaker. Another had Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz reading on behalf of a teenager. For the rest, it can be expensive cosmetics, Beyonce tickets or even a puppy. One thing they all have in common is that parents are picking up some or all of the tab.

Brands have gotten in on the action, looking to capitalize further on the already expensive event. National Promposal Day, March 11, was registered this year by Men’s Wearhouse, which rents tuxedos for the occasion. A branded social media campaign about the day reached more than 2 million Facebook and Instagram users, and a promposal-themed SnapChat filter, made available to students at more than 18,000 American high schools, was used almost a million times. It’s unclear how many teens ended up with dates that day, but Men’s Wearhouse is hoping it’ll lead to a boost in sales and rentals. Prom dress retailers are latching onto the phenomenon in store and posting about promposals on company blogs.

“We know our customers are receiving proposals, and they like reading about them,” explained Devin VanderMaas, director of marketing for Faviana, a special occasion dress retailer in New York City. “It’s also one of the more searched keywords right now. Girls who are most likely going to buy our dress are also Googling promposal stories. That’s another way for us to find new people and have them discover our brand.”

Golden Asp, a prom dress retailer in Pennsylvania, published several promposal-themed blog posts, including the “Ultimate Promposal Guide.” Owner Jon Liney says he often hears tales of promposals from his staff and customers: “When you see a trend like this, that just adds to the significance of prom; it has to help sales.”

Credit card companies have taken notice. Visa, which tracks prom-related expenses in an annual nationwide survey, added promposal costs to the total prom bill for the first time last year. It found the average American household with teenagers spent $324 on promposing.

Promposal spending varies across the country: New England families with teenagers come in at $431 per promposal, compared with $342 in the West, $305 in the South and $218 in the Midwest. Promposals are so prolific that they’re becoming the most expensive part of the event. Total spending on the prom, which includes the cost of clothing, transportation, tickets, food, photographs, and the after party, is down since 2013, when it was $1,139, according to Visa. In 2014, it fell to $978 and again last year by 6 percent, to $919.

Conventional wisdom would assume wealthier families spend more, but Visa found families making less than $25,000 per year spend $1,393 on proms, compared with families that earn more than $50,000 spending just $799. Visa referred to the finding as “disconcerting,” but the study didn’t explain why this might be the case.

Low-income families are often encouraged to turn to charitable organizations for free prom dresses and tuxedos. One such nonprofit, New York’s Operation Prom, is considering expanding those services to include promposals.

“We’ve thought about these promposals over the past two years as they’ve increasingly gotten popular,” said founder Noel D’Allacco, who is considering encouraging wealthier students to use her organization for their promposal and, in the process, help fund prom expenses for those less well-off. “We’ve been trying to get creative for what we can do to help that promposal come true.”

Parents can spend extra to get a professional to plan a promposal. The Heart Bandits, a Los Angeles proposal planning firm that charges $1,000 for promposal services, has received about 30 inquires about promposals and planned at least five, according to founder Michele Velazquez. Sarah Glick, a proposal planner at New York City’s Brilliant Event Planning, charges $495 for a concept design and a minimum $2,500 for executing the promposal. The company has been approached about a dozen times about a promposal

In 2014, parents surveyed by Visa said they were planning to pay for 56 percent of prom costs. The next year, parents raised the amount to 73 percent, leading Visa to conclude, “Teens have no incentive to cut cost with parents still subsidizing this much of the total prom spending.”

And Glick expects the trend will affect the traditional proposal market in the coming years: “It sets the bar so high for these girls. Where are they going to go from here for their own marriage proposal?”

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