Life in the Parking Lot

I slept in a parking lot last night.

Oh, I had a bed. And walls. And a bathroom. In what AirBnB described as an “urban cottage.” I guess “studio apartment in a corner of a parking lot” lacks a certain romance.

Naturally, my parking lot home comes with its own designated parking space. Ironically, I cannot park in it because of the giant pickup truck nearby. 

Still, I would rather be in the parking lot cottage (“parking lottage”?) than in the sterile, cookie-cutter motel the conference had reserved for us. The lottage has character, if not little bottles of skin cream.

But my father was an insurance man, so part of me can’t help wondering about whether this arrangement skirts regulations. All these do-it-yourself hoteliers and taxi drivers—don’t we need someone to make sure they know what they’re doing?

With the GOP busy dismantling every regulation they can get their paws on, we may be better off with mom & pop operations—if mom & pop understand ethics and safety. It may take a while for corporations to fully appreciate their freedom from regulatory interference, but once they realize the shackles have been removed, who knows what we can expect?

The GOP may be deregulating businesses, but they’ve started slapping regulations on language. The EPA is now barred from using the phrase “climate change.” Do they think if we can’t talk about it, it will go away? The polar ice will stop melting? No one will notice the tides rising? The air thickening with smog?

I guess there are crazier things than sleeping in a parking lot. At least I’m moving on in a couple of days; the insanity of the deregulators and the truth police will be with us long after Velveeta Voldemort has left us for a minimum security golf course.

What the customer wants — inclusion (if the Super Bowl ads are right)

“Listen hard to your customers. (Then listen some more.)”

Translation: Find out what the customer wants. And give it to them.

That particular advice comes from Pat Fallon and Fred Senn’s book Juicing the Orange. I haven’t read the book, but I did read a review of it in The New York Times back in 2006, which is how their “seven steps for creativity” landed in my quotation file.

The other rules, for the record:

“1) Always start from scratch
2) ‘Demand a ruthlessly simple definition of the business problem’
3) Find a ‘proprietary emotion’ you can appeal to. ‘Marketers who favor reason over emotion,’ they write, ‘will find themselves quite literally forgotten.’
4) Think big. Don’t be limited by the budget or the initial challenge.
5) Take calculated risks.
6) Collaborate with others both inside and outside your company to solve the problem.”

All of these, except perhaps the last, resonate with me as a writer. Be original. Boil complex issues down to simple (but sophisticated) explanations. Appeal to the audience’s emotions. Hmm…how to translate “think big”: Write what you feel needs to be written. Don’t second-guess or censor yourself.

what the customer wants is inclusion

But in the aftermath of the Super Bowl, I’m most struck by the ideas of listening to your customers (the audience) and leveraging emotion to convey your message. The video game and movie commercials treated us to a violent, dystopian world—one commercial showed tanks exploding into everyday situations; Tienanmen Square in your very own living room! But the consumer products companies told a story of compassion and inclusion. I’ll take that world, thanks.

The customer wants inclusion

My favorite was AirBnb’s “We accept” ad.

This isn’t just a political statement—it’s also brand positioning for AirBnb, which has faced issues stemming from some of its hosts discriminating against guests. See this piece on the Twitter hashtag #AirBnbwhileblack and this one about a “straight-friendly” host evicting a gay couple.

It’s a challenge for AirBnb, one they seem to have tackled forthrightly. But as discrimination becomes more socially acceptable, they may find they need something stronger than a feel-good advertisement or even a nondiscrimination pledge in their user agreement:

“We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the AirBnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

This is decidedly not the United States the current Republican administration envisions. But it is not what the customer wants — or most citizens, for that matter. Here’s hoping the corporate vision wins this battle.