Ben & Jerry’s has been touring the country with a sampling program since the ’80s, with the original “Cowmobile.” Now, social media is playing an integral role in the ice cream giant’s latest sampling efforts – on the ‘2012 Truck Tour’ – and boosting ROI.
The old-school method? Ben & Jerry’s would pick a location and give out free samples to see what customers enjoyed. At first, incorporating social media simply meant using it to tell customers where the samples were being given out – the effort would usually reach a few thousand people. Then, the brand began to discover the true power of social media by asking fans to engage on social platforms, especially Twitter.
In the summer of 2010 the sampling program began to evolve, featuring free ice cream delivery in select markets based on social media demand. Ben & Jerry’s would still tweet their location (cities included were New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles last year), but then playfully asked followers “Who wants ice cream?”
According to Jay Curley, integrated marketing manager at Ben & Jerry’s, flipping their strategy like this “worked so well that by the end of the summer in our New York and Boston programs, 90% of the time we were just taking requests via social media, mostly from Twitter.” It created a more personalized experience and generated a lot of conversation – by bringing ice cream to an office of 20 people, Ben & Jerry’s reached tweeters in that office, their co-workers, and their several hundred followers and friends.
Curley told MediaPost that “We’re scaling our sampling, so that one sample makes 600 to 700 impressions.” And because these impressions are social – and coming from friends – they are more meaningful that just finding a random truck offering free Ben & Jerry’s.
The program has become so successful that this year it will expand into four new markets: Washington D.C., Miami, Portland and Seattle. Curley says, “We always knew sampling was good and felt right for our brand, but we could never show an ROI like this.”
While traditionally the sampling program has relied on core flavors, this year it will introduce a new line of flavors based on Greek Frozen Yogurt: Strawberry Shortcake, Raspberry Fudge Chunk, Banana Peanut Butter and Blueberry Vanilla Graham.
Fans can follow @BenJerrysTruck (with over 16,000 followers) on the East Coast, or @BenJerrysWest (with over 7,000 followers) on the West Coast to check the scoop truck’s location. The Twitter bio states “We’re bringing free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream where YOU ask us to!” The scoop truck tour is also prominently featured on the brand’s website.
Curley believes that delivering ice cream to Ben & Jerry’s fans is “really a fantastic way to connect with our fans one-on-one and deliver an experience you can’t get anywhere else.”