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Road Trip Proves the Value of Promo Products

A unique cross-country trip inside an art car emblazoned with promo items helps spread the word about the extreme value of ad specialty products.

Janis Joplin drove one. So did John Lennon. The one first introduced in 1936 by hot dog maker Oscar Mayer now  boasts its own Twitter feed (Wienermobile). They’re“art cars,” loosely defined as any vehicle modified for the sake of artistic expression.

In 2014, the Advertising Specialty Institute introduced its own mobile canvas with the debut of the ASI Promocar. The paint-splattered 2002 Mazda Protégé is covered inside and out with a riot of colorful promotional products, from logoed slinkys, stress balls and lanyards to cellphone covers and celebrity cut-outs. The concept car is topped off by a hood and roof painted to resemble a road.

It’s a moving billboard – and the centerpiece of a year-long public relations campaign called“Driving Serious Fun,” which ASI created to spread the word about the industry’s creativity and ingenuity. For the past year, anyone visiting ASI trade shows in Chicago, Orlando, Long Beach and New York City could sit in the driver’s seat, take photos – and sign the inside.

“As much fun as it is, the Promocar serves a serious purpose,” said ASI’s president and chief executive officer, Timothy M. Andrews.“It opens up conversations about promotional products and gives us a chance to brag about the low-cost, high-impact items that fuel a $21.5 billion industry to anyone who’ll listen. It’s ASI’s very own version of ‘mobile advertising’ for the industry.”

From March 30 to April 6, the ASI Promocar took its most ambitious trip yet, traveling 3,144 miles across 13 states. Everywhere it went, people gawked, smiled, gave thumbs up, took pictures and asked variations of the question“Why’d you do that to your car?!”

The point is simple: To motivate people to consider advertising with ad specialties. To remind them, ASI gave away a trunkful of freebies and Promocar T-shirts. In return, passersby from Hong Kong, New Zealand, England and numerous U.S. states left their mark on the dashboard, steering wheel, radio, doors and even the ceiling, along with well wishes, website addresses, peace signs and smiley faces.

Yes, the ASI Promocar is street-legal (anyone can turn their vehicle into an art car as long as they obey a few sensible rules) and, no, those things don’t fly off, even at 60 mph (ASI used a lot of glue and in the interest of safety purposely chose lightweight plastic or foam products). So far, only about a half dozen items have come free.

“It defies mediocrity,” said an admirer in Santa Fe, NM.“It’s a psychedelic, groovy ride,” concluded a fan in Barstow, CA.

The“fun car,” as kids call it, was driven by ASI PR manager Dawn Marie, who couchsurfed (www.couchsurfing.com) during the cross-country trip as a tie-in to the freebie concept the ad specialty industry is based upon. Along the way, she met hundreds of people from Los Angeles to tiny Floyd, VA, and at weird, wacky roadside attractions like Arizona’s Golf Ball House and tourist sites like the grand Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.

As the trip proved, promo products really are everywhere, whether it’s the big bowl of giveaway matches spotted at swanky Boa restaurant in Santa Monica or the logoed cups and $100“bills” offered to patrons of Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo (where you also get a 72-oz. steak dinner for free – if you can consume the entire thing in less than an hour).

In addition to stares, ASI also gathered valuable video testimonials from end-users raving about their favorite products, providing living proof of conclusions drawn by ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, which determined that ad specialties deliver commanding advertiser recall among 85% of consumers surveyed, with most people owning about 10 items they generally keep for seven months.

“I enjoy the pens from TD Bank that they give for free,” said a New York woman at the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, AZ, on historic Rt. 66.“I use them every day.”

Even mechanics who serviced the Promocar spoke up, including a technician at LA’s Browning Mazda, who showed off paperweight hockey pucks he got from a tire company exhibiting at a Las Vegas trade show.“I’ve used them for over 12 years,” said John Cemore.“They’re fantastic. They’ve done their job and I still remember the company to this day.”

Outside Graceland in Memphis, TN, the self-proclaimed“Freebie Man,” aka Scott Arthur from Dover, KY, posed for photos of the car with his wife while ticking off a list of his favorite freebies.“I just got a cigar cutter the other day,” he said.“I’ve gotten ink pens from the Harley shop. Anything free, I’m all over.”

In a supermarket parking lot near Roanoke, VA, the Promocar caught the eye of a Winston-Salem businessman.“I noticed this outstanding car because it has lots of promotional items on it that I’ve purchased in the past,” he said.“They’re better than a business card.”

Along with attention, the Promocar attracted its share of press, including a mention in the Los Angeles Times (daily readership: 1.5 million) and a spread in NJ.com, the state’s largest website.

“At a time when we conduct so much business electronically, it’s wonderful to meet people face-to-face,” said Andrews.“Maybe we’ll even inspire a few distributors to create an art car of their own. It’s not only a conversation-starter, it’s literally an advertising vehicle.”– email: dshurmaitis@asicentral.com

Create Your Own Art Car

Here are some tips for creating your own moving billboard:

  • Choose colorful, lightweight items.
  • Lightly sand the car’s surface before adhering items.
  • Use generous amounts of GE
  • Silicone II caulking glue.
  • Maintain all sight lines and make sure windows, engine, license plate, lights, gas cap remain visible and accessible.
  • Give the vehicle a catchy name.