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Apple fanboys turn pro

Even more sponsorships, marketing giveaways, and hired runners wormed their way into the iPad lines today, increasingly clouding what had been the domain of gadget enthusiasts.

Some of these customers aren't in it for the love of Apple; they're here to get paid.
Sarah Tew/CNET

It used to be about the products, man.

The release of Apple's new iPad today drew the usual long lines, gawking crowds, and media circuses to the company's major stores. In other words, a typical launch for an Apple product.

But what has steadily changed over the years is the amount of marketing and commercialization that has pervaded what had once been the realm of a few hardcore Apple fanboys. Eager iPad buyers aren't just lining up for the thrill of getting their hands on the latest Apple goodness, they have a sponsor. Others are lining up strictly as "runners," hired to wait in line and pick up an iPad.

The Apple lines provide an irresistible location for companies looking to make a name for themselves. Any branded freebies--hats, sweaters, and umbrellas--are gladly welcome. These companies also get the benefit of associating themselves with the Apple hype, without actually having any affiliation with Apple. With scores of reporters and camera crews at the store, they can nab a little free publicity too.

At the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, also known as the "Cube," the first person in line was sponsored by Greg Packer had been waiting in line since Monday at noon.

A similar situation occurred last year, when college student Amanda Foote sold her first-position seat in the iPad 2 line for $900 to Hazem Sayed, who developed check-in application AskLocal. While Packer was clearly a fan with his existing iPad, Foote said at the time she was trying to raise money for a flight home and concert tickets and had little interest in Apple products.

As with last year, the lines at the Fifth Avenue and Grand Central stores were littered with runners looking to buy iPads and hop on a plane back to their home country for delivery. Few were willing to speak to the press.

There were more-obvious manifestations of the increasing commercialism of Apple product launches. Running around the Cube was Peanut Chews' promotional team, with members adorned in matching colorful uniforms. The team members handed out Peanut Chew candy to people in line and were quick to reach into their messenger bags for fistfuls of candy and coupons for anyone who walked by.

They even handed the chews to customers who were leaving the Apple store and trying to escape the gauntlet of media cameras and microphones. The promoters would shout for people to check out the Peanut Chews app game--all part of the promotion. And somehow the team cheered more loudly than Apple employees as the first customers in line gained access to the Apple store, chanting "Pea-nut chews! Pea-nut chews!"

The Otter Box promotional team was observing from the sidelines by 7 a.m. They spent the night and covered the first couple of dozen people in line with warm beanies branded with the Otter Box logo, and passed out rain gear. They ordered pizza for people through the night, too. A lot of customers waiting near the front of the store had an Otter Box logo on their head, while there were three Otter Box staffers in yellow fleece jackets.

In the flagship store in San Francisco, TaskRabbit, which supplies people for minor chores and tasks, handed out doughnuts to people in line.

It's tough to blame these companies when they literally have a captive audience for their brand, products, and services.