When the Idaho Potato Commission first unveiled its plans for a Big Idaho Potato Truck that would tour across the country, the industry could have scarcely imagined how successful the truck and its crew would be at garnering media attention as well as attracting crowds wherever it went.
The truck, a flatbed big-rig on which is mounted a massive replica of an Idaho potato, made its first cross-country trip in 2012 and was “back by popular demand” this year for a second national tour, according toFrank Muir, president of the commission.
“This last week, we had the truck at a Nascar event in Nashville, TN,” Muir said, speaking at a session of the Idaho Shipper Association Convention Aug. 29. Nascar fans, who love to get autographs of drivers, were lined up “around the corner” to get the autograph of the driver of the Big Idaho Potato Truck.
Adding to the celebrity status of the truck and its four-member team was a national TV advertising campaign featuring truck and crew which proved highly popular.
A television campaign, aired on national cable television and at various sports events sponsored by the IPC such as the famous Idaho Potato Bowl, features an actual Idaho potato farmer, Mark Coombs, in the field, holding a poster of the “missing” truck and crew, and asking viewers, “If you see them, please tell them to come home,” as fast cuts show the truck at recognizable landmarks around the country and the crew having a grand time.
Muir said that the ad has received much favorable attention. He read several unsolicited letters the commission has received from people who thought the ad was great, fun, humorous and refreshingly clean and decent.
For the coming marketing season, a new ad has been produced. It debuted on national television during Boise State football game broadcast Saturday, Aug. 31, with a national cable TV campaign running from October through January on such networks as CNN, Fox News, ESPN, the Food Chanel and the History Chanel, Muir said.
The new spot features the same Idaho potato grower as in last year’s ad, setting off in his pickup truck, with his dog, across the country in search of the still-missing potato truck and crew.
People loved the first truck commercial, Muir said. The commission received unsolicited mail from viewers saying such things as, “Your commercial with the farmer wanting the potato truck to come home is probably the best commercial I have ever seen.”
“We think it is one of the cutest and cleanest advertisements on TV,” wrote a viewer.
“Thank you for putting out a decent ad,” wrote another.
Yet another viewer called it “the best ad ever. You guys have a winner. So many commercials are stupid and insult one’s intelligence. Cute is so refreshing.”
The Idaho Potato Commission’s sponsorship of Boise State University and University of Idaho football continues this season, as does the sponsorship of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Muir said.
The bowl game is set for Dec. 21, and the Big Idaho Potato Truck will make a cameo appearance at the game in the final stop of its 2013 tour.
There is big news for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl this year, Muir said. ESPN has announced that it is acquiring the Potato Bowl, and “that is terrific news” for the industry. “ESPN really believes in this bowl game. They love the location. They love the blue turf. They love the potatoes connected to the blue turf.”
The acquisition “creates financial stability to the bowl game long term and also assures that we are going to get really good matches because they want the biggest TV audiences for their game, and they are going to promote the bowl even more than they have in the past,” he said.
As another component to the Idaho Potato Commission’s consumer campaign, this year, “Idaho’s own” ESPN Sideline Reporter Heather Cox, who travels “all over the country” for ESPN, will be doing some videos “celebrating Idaho potatoes” in “iconic locations“ in each city she travels to, Muir said.
The videos will be posted on the commission’s website and on YouTube.
It is a test program, but “hopefully these things will go viral,” Muir added.
Social media is a big part of the commission’s consumer efforts, according to Muir. In fact, “the IPC has been a leader in social media in the agricultural industry. I don’t think there is any organization, no matter its size or budget, that does more social media than the Idaho Potato Commission.”
The Tater Talk electronic newsletter reaches more than 68,000 people monthly.
“We are also featuring a monthly photo contest,” he said. A recipe using Idaho potatoes is posted on the website without a photo. Consumers can buy Idaho potatoes, make the recipe, style it, take a photo of it, and “send it to us, and we pick a winner every month.”
IPC will also be running a quarterly national Facebook campaign inviting consumers to submit their favorite potato recipes.
There will also be a social media chef competition. “We are inviting 10 well-known chefs to compete in providing their favorite Idaho potato recipe, and then we are going to invite consumers to vote on them,” he said.
The commission is “also supporting our heroes,” Muir said. “We are going to be sponsoring the 39th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition in Virginia in which 18 military chefs will compete preparing a four-course meal featuring Idaho potatoes.”
IPC was “the first agricultural organization to run a YouTube video contest several years ago,” he said.
”We are now launching our third video contest” and will again invite consumers to vote on the winners in four categories
Activities on Pinterest and Instagram round out the social media campaign.
Also this year, the commission will host its third blogger tour. “We are inviting 10 new bloggers to come to Idaho and experience the harvest,” Muir said.