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ASI Promocar – Couchsurfing My Way Cross-Country

Filed under: Fun

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.


When I told a co-worker I planned to stay with strangers as part of the couchsurfing.com experience throughout my 2,700-mile ASI Promocar trip across America, he said “You’re nuts!”

His reaction was understandable. To many people, the idea of checking into someone’s home (or bus, barn, trailer, tent, villa etc.) instead of a hotel is a little, well, nutty. But since couchsurfing is free and I’m part of an industry based on freebies, it made perfect sense to me.

While traveling from California to N.J. as part of ASI’s “Driving Serious Fun” PR campaign, my co-pilot and I stayed with fellow couchsurfers in Memphis, Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; and Floyd, Virginia. Each experience was unique – and ultimately wonderful.

The website’s motto is simple: “We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”

The website and the experience is taking off, growing to a global community of 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities who “share their life, their world, their journey.”

We couchsurfed in whatever city we could find a willing host. When we couldn’t, we opted for Airbnb, another social sharing experience that differs from couchsurfing in that you stay in people’s homes, but pay reduced rates for your room. With both sites, hosts and guests review the experience, so you can check out each other beforehand and decide if you’d be a good overnight fit.

As one of our hosts said, “If you check into a hotel you turn on the TV.” Instead, we were turned on to the true stories of peoples’ lives. In turn, they got to share the #ASIpromocar experience and hear about our adventures on the road.

In Memphis, we met Aaron and Ashley, young schoolteachers who live in a middle-class neighborhood a few miles from downtown. They had 310 positive references and Aaron has been a member since 2005, hosting over 500 people to date.

I admit, driving up to their house we were nervous. For one, we were of a different generation. And, although I’d warned them about the Promocar, reading about it in an email and having a car covered in colorful promotional products parked in your driveway in full view of your neighbors are two very different things. We needn’t have worried.

Some couchsurfers pass in the night, barely interacting. Others, like us, get to enjoy Friday night art walk in a hip Memphis neighborhood and enjoy dinner afterward at the most unusual wine bistro I’ve ever visited, the Greencork Self-Serve Wine Bar.

Later on, Ashley and Aaron shared stories about teaching impoverished Memphis schoolchildren and even showed us their wedding photos. We learned the story behind the white top hat and bow tie each of their guests put on for a photo (there was this bison, see…aww, never mind — you had to be there).

We had such a wonderful experience, we hated to leave. But more adventures lie ahead.

The sun rose over Memphis as we hit the road, finally eating the mini cinnamon donuts we got at Graceland, bound for Asheville and our second couch surfing experience at a gorgeous modern home high on a hill with a view to still your heart.

Patty, a retired executive assistant, knitter and writer, and Steve, a bass player with a music room to die for and a wall full of amazing photos taken by his father, immediately made us feel at home. After giving us a great tour of downtown Asheville, we enjoyed delicious Southern food at Tupelo Honey Café, featuring the best fried shrimp and collard greens I’ve ever tasted.

Our third and final couchsurfing experience took place in tiny Floyd, VA (population 425), known for its strong music and literary scene and proximity to the historic Blue Ridge Parkway.

In Floyd, we were greeted by Tara and her red-haired toddler son, Rowan, two mutts and an assortment of clucking, pecking chickens. Tara offered us homemade egg salad and fresh-baked pumpkin pie and told us all about living in Floyd, the challenges and the joys. Rowan – the cutest child I’ve ever seen –showed us his room, his fish and his toys.

It was the sweetest experience of our entire trip.

We spent the night in a converted room above the barn in a comfortable bed with a wipe-open view of surrounding cow and sheep fields. At sunrise, instead of a jarring alarm clock, we wake to the sounds of the farm. Moo!

It’s our last night on the road. Tomorrow, we finally sleep in our very own bed.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Turning Heads at Starbucks

Filed under: Fun

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

It’s easy after a while to forget you’re driving a car covered in a riot of products and paint. You pull into a gas station late at night and tell the tattooed clerk (to a one they are almost always tattooed, always pleasant, always young) and ask for X dollars on pump Y.

They glance outside to confirm the pump number, then do a slow double take. They pause, I’m sure wondering if they even want to know, and then ask any number of variations on “Do you have balls on your car?”

If I’m too tired to explain I say, simply, yes, ma’am I do, and leave it at that. Not a single one asks me why I have balls on my car. I guess when you work the midnight shift in a one-store town you’ve pretty much seen it all, including the ASI Promocar.

At a Starbucks outside Roanoke, the clerk at the drive-through window says nothing until she’s handed over the last item. “OK,” she says, “Do I have to ask you about your car?”

You do, I say, and explain the wow and the why. Like everyone we’ve met along this cross-country “Driving Serious Fun” tour to spread the word about the $21.5 billion promo products industry, she wishes us the best of luck and safe travels home.

Fifty hours of driving down. Just eight more or so to go.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Walmart to the Rescue!

Filed under: Uncategorized

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

When the rear tire on a Mazda Protégé with over 193,000 miles on it starts to seriously lose air on Easter morning in Asheville, NC and AAA basically tells you “good luck finding someplace open on a holiday Sunday,” you might begin to despair.

But I wasn’t about to let the 2,700-mile ASI Promocar trip come to a grinding halt when it was a mere four states from home after traveling three-quarters of the way across the entire US of A. Thankfully, things were mighty slow in the mini mart where we tried to patch things up with some air. “I bet Walmart can help you,” said the clerk observing the unanswered phone calls and ever-growing angst in my eyes.

The megastore came to the rescue. The Mazda limped into the Bleachery Boulevard superstore and the mechanics on duty – Tristan, Jarrod and Donald – fairly jumped at the chance to help us. First, however, they had to take pictures and ask what in heck we were doing.

In fact, Donald was so attentive that when he changed the punctured tire he used a black sharpie to color in the white spaces so the Promocar tire matched the others three paint-spattered ones. He wanted our car to look pretty as possible and we were mighty grateful (forgive me – but when you drive the South you start to say things like “mighty grateful” as naturally as we say “back off!” up North.

Thanks to Walmart, we were back on the trail in less than an hour, after adding three more names to the ever-growing community of Promocar fans.

Go, Promocar, go!

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Easter Sunday Fun

Filed under: Uncategorized

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

The sight of this crazy-colored car, covered inside and out with an array of promo products, makes a lot of people smile, no matter their age, sex or station in life. Cowboys. Muslims. Bearded old men. Religious zealots. Hot girls in crop tops. Bikers. Aging hippies. Self-conscious teens too cool for school. And kids. Especially kids.

They don’t care about the why of it; they just want to enjoy the wow of it.

“This is my lucky day,” says the pint-sized son of an Asheville, NC photographer we met in the parking lot of the Biltmore Estate on Easter Sunday, where hundreds of people dressed in their finest converged for the annual egg roll at the grandiose 19th century tourist attraction, complete with six-foot costumed bunny rabbit.

The little boy posed with his brother, their bunny ears and baskets, smiling to beat the band. They kept pulling on the items glued to the Promocar, unable to believe they were actually stuck to a car.

We enjoyed their enthusiasm so much we gave them balls, sunglasses and clackers. If I could have I would’ve given them the moon.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Fitting Right In At Graceland

Filed under: Fun

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

We start singing Paul Simon’s ode to Elvis, “Graceland,” soon as we cross the state line, so excited to see the home of the King himself, chanting “I’m going to Graceland/Graceland/In Memphis Tennessee” over and over as we drive closer and closer.

It’s everything I imagined. And the ASI Promocar fits right in. No wonder – we’re at world-famous tourist attraction often dubbed “commercialism at its finest,” featuring five specialty gift shops and an online store carrying every Elvis-themed T-shirt, jacket, hat, accessory, mug, post card, glassware, collectible and even upscale art you can imagine, right down to the Elvis PJs and underwear.

Elvis bought the 1939 mansion (named after a female member of the original farm family that owned it) in 1957, when he was 22 and riding high on his first sonic boom of super-stardom.

Back then, the surprisingly modest mansion was one of the few houses in a largely rural community. How times have changed. Today, Elvis’ old nabe is littered with low-rent businesses and strip malls. His new next door neighbor is a BJs fast food joint featuring buffet style wings and things.

You arrive at the Graceland experience after turning off Elvis Presley Boulevard into a huge parking lot across the street from the gated mansion. The first thing we see after entering the ticket area before boarding shuttles is a sign that says “Before Elvis, there was nothing. — John Lennon.” It’s the perfect introduction.

As we wait for our tour to start we kill time at the restaurant, ordering Elvis’ favorite sandwich: the fried peanut butter and banana, topping it off with a bag full of mini cinnamon donuts, figuring Elvis himself would approve. Everywhere we look, we see people carrying plastic blue and white Elvis gift bags. I imagine if you don’t buy at least one souvenir, you’re barred from leaving. I opt for T-shirts, mugs and rockin’ Elvis tights.

Standing in line a biker chick overhears a 70-something woman recount the time she saw the King in Memphis when she was a teenager. “You met Elvis?” she says, reaching out her hand. “I gotta touch you.” The older woman’s eyes still shine as she recounts his flashy white pantsuit and the way he twirled his cape as he strode into the audience of screaming, mostly female fans. By the time she’s finished her story she’s drawn a crowd. Tell it, sister, tell it! “I saw him,” she says of her brush with Elvis. “I thought I would die.”

It’s official: We are among devout worshippers in the House of Elvis. And there’s no place I’d rather be.

Best laugh: Asking Graceland employees Racquel and Shawonda about the large sign that says “I shot Elvis.” They crack up when I say, shocked, “Elvis was shot?!? How’d I miss that?” Turns out it’s an exhibit of photos people have taken of Elvis over the years. “Yeah,” Showanda says, “We should probably change that name.” Branding is indeed everything.

There are no longer any tour guides at Graceland. These days you’re handed an iPad you hang around your neck and a pair of earphones. As you pass through themed rooms like the Jungle Room (with it famous green shag carpet, elaborately carved wooden furniture and Polynesian monkey ceramics), you’re supposed to scroll through the screens for more info or tap on your favorites.

I don’t get the point of looking at a screen when I’m standing in front of the actual scene so I largely ignore the device. I’m enthralled, however, by the audio since it features narration by Elvis’ and Priscilla’s daughter, Lisa Marie. Her heartfelt stories of growing up in the house, hanging in the kitchen and joining the musicians jamming in the basement rec room are both fascinating and unexpectedly touching. She was nine when her daddy died at age 42 of an apparent heart attack suffered in Graceland’s bathroom, which is not shown on the tour.

With so many Fat Elvis punch lines crowding your memory, it’s easy to forget Presley – who started singing at age 10 – was a son, husband and beloved father, as well as one of the most masterful musicians of our time.

When you walk into the adjacent trophy and racquetball buildings, with the floor to ceilings framed gold and platinum records, headless costumed dummy and encased Grammy Awards (surprisingly, he won just three, and all for Gospel recordings) you’re gob-smacked by the breadth of his musical reach and his influence on everyone from Bob Dylan to Elvis Costello and Bono.

I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the hundreds of plaques and awards were made by ASI members, since the awards segment of the promo products industry is so huge. One gift in the museum portion of the tour that caught my eye was a large RCA TV with a plaque on top that his record company gave him. And I don’t fail to spot the Elvis mug on his father Vernon’s desk in an office that looks as if he just stubbed out his last cigarette.

It’s easy to understand why the official website describes Graceland as the “Embodiment of the American dream — a poor small town boy who reached super stardom and changed pop culture and the world forever. Other than his daughter and his music, Graceland was probably Elvis’ greatest pride and joy.”

We treat the site with the respect it deserves, making sure before we leave to park by the outside stone wall, where legions of fans have signed their name near the legendary custom gates that feature twin guitar players and an array of musical notes.

There, we meet the self-proclaimed “freebie man,” who’s traveling with his wife as part of a 25th anniversary celebration. He loves anything free, he says, happily taking a “Driving Serious Fun” T-shirt and enthusiastically signing the car just like he did the wall.

For my part I sign the wall “#ASIpromocar 2015.” Somehow, I think Elvis would approve.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Rockin’ N Rollin’ Through Arkansas

Filed under: Uncategorized

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

The Press Argus-Courier is an award-winning newspaper in Van Buren, Arkansas that happens to be the state’s oldest weekly newspaper, tracing its roots all the way back to 1858.

Thursday, we got to meet the paper’s chief reporter, Taniah Tudor, who kindly took photos and learned the story of ASI’s moving billboard.  In turn, we shared recent Advantages magazine stats on Arkansas’s contribution to the promotional products industry: $190 million for 2014, a 3% growth from 2013.

We were in Arkansas as part of ASI’s year-long “Driving Serious Fun” PR campaign, traveling 2,700 miles in a car covered inside and out with promo products to “drive” (get it?) attention to the $21.5 billion ad specialty industry.

We were preparing to leave near-by Fort Smith, an Old West town in the heart of the Ozark just shy of the Oklahoma border, when a tattooed man charged the ASI Promocar, yelling “I gotta sign your guitar!”

Guitar? What guitar? Then I realized he was gesturing at a guitar-shaped stress ball glued to inside of the driver’s side door, one of hundreds of promotional items covering the 2002 Mazda. In Arkansas, the car did its trick, grabbing the attention of the reporter and the tattooed man, who turned out to be rising country star, Michael Mandella, just arrived from Memphis with a friend who recognized the ASI logo covering every inch of the crazy car. Turns out, the friend is a screen printer who’s very familiar with promo products.

After signing the mini guitar, Mandella gave us our second promotional gift of the tour – his latest CD, “American Outlaw,” which he’s giving away to everyone he meets to drum up business for his brand, “The Music Man.” Like millions of rockers everywhere, Mandella was also proudly sporting his own “American Outlaw” T-shirt.

The songs on his CD (including “I’m Gonna Miss You a Lot” and “Big Damn Star”), we learned, “tell of the human experience in a way that conveys honest emotion as well as unwavering hope for a better tomorrow.”

Whatever! His giveaway did the trick: We listened to it throughout a bright, moon-lit night as we cruised Interstate 40, dodging fast-moving tractor-trailers in our zippy little car, crossing from one end of Arkansas (“the natural state”) to the other, into Tennessee.

Next stop: Graceland. What are the chances we’ll see promotional items at the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll residence? Elvis, here we come.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar at the Cadillac Ranch

Filed under: Fun

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

Life sure is full of incredible coincidences, especially on a 2700 mile road trip in the ASI Promocar.

Spent the night at the Contemporary Mining Camp House in Flagstaff, AZ with Kari and Jeff, who are part of the AirBnB community. They spent nearly four years building their house, set amid ponderosa pines on ancient buffalo fields, and made partially of reclaimed material like old railroad tracks. Recently returned from a 9-month world tour with their two kids in tow, we were sharing tales from the road when  Jeff asked about the products on the Mazda now parked in their driveway.

“They’re all promotional products,” I replied, preparing to launch into an explanation of the industry when he said, astonished, “I was in that industry! Maurer and Associates.” The company, started by his dad, was centered around apparel, specializing in golf tournaments. “I bet I can even remember my ASI number,” he said, rattling it off. “We always looked for items that weren’t being carried. There were so many to choose from.”

Tell me about it!

The next day, the Promocar made it to an automobile mecca: the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX, which features 10 classic Caddys buried nose first in a field off Interstate 40, all now covered in spray paint from tagging tourists.

As we approached, a couple asked us to take their photo. Of all things, what’s the man carrying? A promotional mug from Santa Fe.

Returning to the #ASIpromocar we find a Chinese man enthusiastically filming every inch. “He’s CK,” his American tour guide explained. “He’s famous in China. Very big star. With China Auto Sports Club. He loves your car.”

Then, CK gave me a gift — his very own promotional product — a sticker from the CASC, which he’s handing out to everyone he meets on his own cross-country tour of America, in the time-honored freebie fashion.

Before we parted, they both signed the car, joining the legions who’ve already left their mark on the Promocar. So far, in addition to sigs from numerous US residents, we’ve collected autographs from Honduras, Mexico and New Zeland.

Small world indeed.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Desert Days

Filed under: Fun

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

The ASI Promocar is nothing if not a conversation starter. Pull into any gas station, trading post or coffee shop along Interstate 40 in a zippy little Mazda covered inside and out in a wild assortment of logoed items and people will gather ‘round like moths to a flame. Out come the cameras – and the questions.

“Why’d you do that to your car?”
“Where you folks going?”
“Don’t they fly off?”

Feeling a little like a Walmart pitchman selling ginsu knives, I spring into action, ready with answers, freebies and questions of my own:

“Tell me this – how many promo products like the ones you see on this car do you own?”
“And which company gave you that pen/T-shirt/cap/coffee mug?”
“Let me ask you –How often do you use that can cooler/USB/battery charger?”

It’s a light bulb moment – and it goes off every single time, during every single roadside spiel.

“Yup,” I tell the Long Island family of four traveling to Phoenix for their daughter’s wedding, “This is a $21.5 billion industry – for good reason. Promotional products are an affordable, high-impact item any smart business can use to put their company name, slogan or event front and center in a user’s mind.”

“What’s the last TV commercial you remember?” I ask. “Can’t think of it, eh? But you sure remembered the name of the bank that gave you that great pen you use all the time, didn’t you?”

ASI could send out a hundred press releases touting promo products’ terrific recall and ROI without ever scoring the kind of one-on-one, face-to-face affirmation I’m experiencing every day on the road about products people use, enjoy and, above all, remember.

And in this day and age, when so many of our shared experiences are electronic, it’s downright refreshing to look people in the eye, shake their hands and laugh over something silly like the zombie stress ball glued to the Promocar’s driver’s side door.

For a week, the #ASIpromocar gets to be a mobile roadside attraction, in the spirit of Arizona’s Wigwam Motel and the giant golf ball in California’s Mojave Desert. It’s good old American fun, which I’m betting we can all use a dose of now and again.


–Dawn Marie

Newflash! Aliens Abscond With ASI Promocar

Filed under: Fun

Roadside extra-terrestrial overcomes driver, drives off in company art car on its 2,700 mile journey across the U.S.

April Fool’s! The ASI Promocar is safe and already in New Mexico, bound today for Arkansas on its cross-country promotional tour. The car has been very popular with everyone who sees it. You can follow it, along with rightful driver Dawn Marie, on ASI Central, ASI Central’s Facebook, Tim’s Blog and Instagram.

–Dawn Marie

ASI Promocar – Cruisin’ California

Filed under: Uncategorized

Guest blogger Dawn Marie is ASI’s PR manager and creator and driver of the ASI Promocar, part of a year-long PR campaign to drive attention to the promo products industry.

If anything, California is a study in contrasts. Its poverty rate is 23.5%, highest of any state in the country. Homeless are everywhere. And then you drive through Malibu, where oceanfront bungalows that look an awful lot like gussied up storage containers sell for a cool $22 mill.

Cruising Pacific Coast Highway – past the American Apparel store – we pull into a surfer’s lot next to an ancient van painted in camouflage, where an old woman in a housedress rests in the passenger seat.  Spying the #ASIpromocar, her shirtless son pops over for a chat.

“Us artists, we gotta stick together,” he says, proudly showing me his home-made promo hat, which he fashioned out of straw and plastic in honor of his beloved LA. “I bring my mom here every day. She’s got a brain tumor and I take care of her now.”

Within 15 minutes, we’ve given away three “Driving Serious Fun” T-shirts (the slogan for the year-long PR campaign the Promocar was designed around to drive attention to the promo products industry), a couple of logoed footballs and a handful of clackers, which little kids love.

“It’s free?” everyone asks. “You bet,” I get to answer.

To me, that’s the very heart of this $21.5 billion industry – the simple, powerful idea that everybody loves free stuff. Especially when it’s useful. Or just plain fun.

–Dawn Marie

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