Posted by ScLoHo | Scott Howard
When the Heavenly Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe, Nev., wanted to promote its ski passes this season, it bypassed the usual advertising media like billboards, radio and print ads and instead chose a food truck filled with snow cones driven by two improv actors to publicize its message.
For Heavenly, the idea to distribute snow cones from a truck was simple: “We’re going to give you a little bit of the mountain,” said Michael Chamberlin, the executive vice president and director of client services at BBDO San Francisco, which created the campaign for the resort.
That strategy — pairing a brand’s message with of all things, a food truck — has been increasingly employed in recent months, with major advertisers using trucks as rolling sandwich boards while advertising agencies issue the call to independent food truck operators to participate in brand-sponsored events.
Food trucks selling things like falafels and waffles have grown in popularity in cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and advertisers now see them as a vehicle for delivering their message directly to consumers.
“All the companies that are involved in this understand the power of this guerrilla-type marketing, being on the street, being very hands-on with the consumer that’s walking around,” said Beth Lawrence, the chief marketing officer of La Cense Beef, whose La Cense Beef Burger Truck has been used in many events in Manhattan since the summer.
The challenge with buying traditional media, said John Wagnon, the vice president for marketing at Heavenly, one of the properties of the Vail Resorts group, is “paying for eyeballs of people who have no interest in what you’re trying to sell.”
The food truck campaign is the first assignment by Heavenly for BBDO San Francisco, part of the BBDO West unit of BBDO Worldwide, owned by the Omnicom Group.
The resort’s truck, outfitted with iPads and large televisions showing skiing and snowboarding films, will promote a $379 ski season pass at locations around the San Francisco Bay Area through Dec. 15.
Visitors can buy a pass at the truck itself or they can collect a card and visit a Web site for more information. The actors driving the truck will also create video content that will be posted to a blog and Facebook page associated with the campaign.
“It’s like a mobile billboard on steroids,” Mr. Chamberlin said.
Ms. Lawrence said that La Cense Beef started getting calls from advertising agencies at the end of the summer and credited it to the media attention food trucks have gotten, including a mention in New York Magazine’s list of 25 of its favorite food trucks in New York City. According to the 2011 Zagat New York City restaurants survey, 26 percent of respondents reported eating from gourmet food trucks while 40 percent expressed interest in trying them.
In November, the La Cense Beef Burger truck was hired by Team One, a division of Saatchi and Saatchi, for a private event on behalf of Lexus. In October, it was hired by IAC to participate in the Vimeo Festival + Awards event. In June, the 94×50 agency used the truck for a private event on behalf of Nike.
“They like the brand, they like the positioning and they like the fact that the meat is coming from the ranch,” William Kriegel, owner and founder of La Cense Beef, said of the grass-fed beef used to make the hamburgers sold on the truck.
At the 11th annual New Yorker festival this fall, HSBC bank used six independent food trucks to promote its first sponsorship of the event.
The trucks — Rickshaw Dumpling, Schnitzel & Things, Wafels & Dinges, Bistro, NYC Cravings and Van Leeuwen — were wrapped almost entirely in an HSBC ad campaign and each featured a special dish created for the event. Rickshaw Dumpling, for example, created a Peking duck dumpling, while Van Leeuwen offered pumpkin ice cream to visitors.
HSBC customers who showed their bank cards at any of the trucks were given special treats like a free drink of Moroccan mint tea at the Bistro truck and a free scoop of ice cream on a waffle at Wafels & Dinges. HSBC also branded the napkins used in the trucks.
But some brands prefer to create their own food truck instead of hiring an independent operator.
To promote its new product, Heinz Dip & Squeeze Ketchup, the H.J. Heinz Company bought a used truck and added a custom kitchen that included double-stacked convection ovens, food warmers, sinks and a freezer. The truck was then branded with a custom wrapping that displayed the “Heinz Ketchup Road Trip” message along with the related Twitter handle and Facebook page address.
The company hopes to capitalize on the growing familiarity with food trucks, said Jessica Jackson, the group head of public relations and communications at Heinz North America. The redesigned ketchup packets were also a perfect fit for a food truck, Ms. Jackson said.
“Since it was really made for eating on the go, we wanted to create an environment where people could experience it on the go,” she said.
The road trip began in mid-November in Pittsburgh, the company’s hometown, spent the Thanksgiving holiday in New York City and will make its way to Philadelphia with a final stop in Dallas. At each stop, visitors get a free serving of Ore-Ida crinkle cut fries or Ore-Ida sweet potato fries and a packet of the Dip & Squeeze Ketchup.
The company will also give away promotional T-shirts to people who have participated in one of the social media parts of the campaign. For example, the first 20 people who arrive at the truck showing on their smartphone that they have “checked in” to the “Ketchup Road Trip” on Foursquare or who post their preference as “dippers” or “squeezers” on Facebook or use the Twitter handle @DipAndSqeeze to announce their preference are also eligible for a free T-shirt.
Most food trucks, corporate or not, use social media tools like Twitter to post their location to their followers, and now Zagat, the restaurant guide, has gotten into the game. In early November, Zagat announced a food truck Web site that features a map with the location of the food trucks that it partners with. They are also conducting a survey of the best food trucks in New York.
“Now we’re starting to get calls about Christmas parties,” said Ms. Lawrence, of La Cense Beef. “It’s just going to continue to be on the rise.”