Well, it happened again. And this time I couldn’t resist sharing possibly the strangest branding conversation ever.
My Dad was visiting last week and…we were headed back to Columbus after spending the day in Cincinnati watching my son play volleyball. My Dad was taking note of the vast emptiness of the roadside corn and soybean fields when he blurted out, “Hey honey, a few years ago I came up with a great idea and I can’t believe no one has done it yet”. [Oh no]
“You know those billboards that are v-shaped, the ones that have the platforms in between them? Did you know that that platform area is bigger than some apartments? And they have electricity at those things.” [I can only imagine where he’s going with this] “Don’t you think some homeless people would have figured that out by now? I mean…they could literally live on that platform. It has sides already, so they would just need to add a roof. And with electricity, they could have heat.” [Trust me, it gets stranger]
He continues…”If you really think about it, you could live there pretty comfortably [by whose definition?] and no one would know. With electricity, you could cook steaks [steaks?!], even have a TV and air conditioning [WTH?!] .”
So, of course my creative curiosity gets the best of me and (God help me) I begin to fuel the flame by peppering him with questions. “Seriously? An air conditioning unit?”, I asked. [Of all the questions, I chose to focus on that?] “How would you get it up there?” Without hesitation, he replied with a detailed, technical description of a pulley system.
As we continued to drive up the interstate, he was quite disappointed that there were no v-shaped billboards to show me. He did, however, find a few with a narrow platform in between the two parallel sides, and mentioned that even the space between those was actually much larger than it looked.
[Now we’re in too deep to back out]
So I asked the question you’re probably all thinking, too. “Dad, what would you do for a bathroom?” Now, you’d think I was expecting the obvious answer (climb down and use the great outdoors), but I knew better than to expect the expected. He continues, with frightening nonchalance, “You see, you don’t want to have to climb down every time you’ve gotta go. So you cut a hole in the platform and just use it like an outhouse” [OK, gotta give him that]. Or [brace yourself] you could cut off the top of one of those big post cylinders that run up the side, use the bathroom in those, and it would take you literally five years to fill it up”. [I’m wondering at this point whether I’m having an out of body experience].
Over the next hour [kid you not], we discussed the pros and cons of living in a billboard. No mortgage, no electric bill, no taxes, no pesky visitors. The different materials (and even weight limit) the pulley system could accommodate. And the fact that fresh water might be the only real challenge. We even discussed the added benefit of the amazing view (depending on location, of course). I think we stopped just shy of home decor.
We pondered the need for the sign company to periodically access the platform to change the sign and how frequently that might take place. We debated the square footage of the platform and exactly how much space constitutes ‘enough room to live comfortably’.
Then I stepped in with both feet. I couldn’t help myself. I said, “You could be ‘Billboard Gene’. I could get you so much press coverage.” I could already envision the streaming video, selling attraction tickets like they do for the Swiss Family Robinson tree house…plus t-shirts, hot plates and toilet seats with the ‘Billboard Gene’ logo. Even a fashion empire featuring his signature jeans, appropriately named ‘Billboard Genes’ with multiple velcro-flapped pockets for securing items during ‘the climb’.
As we neared the end of the conversation, he added (in an almost too serious tone), “If I’m ever homeless, now you know where to find me”.
My friends, it’s precisely moments like this when you know… 1) where your creativity comes from and 2) that branding is what you were born to do.
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