Could You Pass the Promotion, Please?

Fastest Way to a Consumer's Heart Is Free Food

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
We are considered fairly quirky up here in the Pacific Northwest. The perception that we are solely an agrarian society hopped up on Chai tea and the latest Feist CD as we drive our hybrid cars home to eat Gardenburgers is charming but not altogether accurate. We're like anywhere else in the country.

The fact that Oregon ranks high in cultivation and harvest of hazelnuts, Marionberries (they make the best pie ever), blackberries, raspberries, hops, cherries, pears and a boatload of other agricultural products is great, but its just one piece of our puzzle. What gets lost in the shuffle sometimes is the beef here. Yes, we eat meat up here. And it is delicious. Oregon has a rich heritage that includes a proud ranching history.

Another part of Oregon's story is Les Schwab Tire Centers, a highly-respected regional chain based in Prineville, Oregon. I moved here in January of 1992. In February of the same year, I experienced my first Les Schwab Tires Free Beef promotion. When the TV and radio spots ran, I had to do a double-take. "Did they just say 'free beef'?" I asked my native Oregonian roommates. "Hell, yeah," they responded with pride. Turns out, this salute to Oregon ranchers had been going on for some time. When you buy tires, they pull meat out of a freezer or give you jerky, summer sausage and the like. Four out of the sixteen years I have been here, I have found myself at Les Schwab Tire Centers in February buying tires then hauling home beef. I'm not even sure I needed the tires a couple of times, but I convinced myself that it was worth it.

The best food promotion/incentive I have seen, though, is at another Pacific Northwest classic, Burgerville. I will put them up against any fast-food chain any day of the week. I'm not even sure if "fast-food" is the appropriate term for them. They use 100% local wind power for their stores, have an employee-led recycling and composting program, save their oil to produce biodiesel and have sourced products locally and in the Pacific Northwest for years. Plus, the food is remarkable. The real gem, however, is their real ice cream milkshakes. In the winter, they have a chocolate hazelnut shake that is the stuff of legend. One weekend afternoon at lunch, a Burgerville employee asked us if we would like to participate in a survey for a free milkshake. I couldn't have filled it out faster and, if it were socially acceptable, I would have completed surveys all day.

So what does this have to do with small agencies? It's all about sampling. It's one of those tried-and-true ways for people to touch a brand -- and you'll note that the sampling doesn't even have to be your own product (especially if it's free food). In light of tremendous competition and the blur of digital, this is still one of the most intimate ways for people to get to know you. What's even more powerful is, that if you are a local brand, it is one of the most effective ways to reinforce the idea of quality and being "home grown" while still being able to tell your story to one person at a time.
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