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The 'big Idaho potato truck' is star of commission's new TV ad campaign; Second nationwide tour planned

Move over, Denise Austin. A giant Idaho potato on a flat-bed truck is taking center stage in this year's Idaho Potato Commission television advertising campaign.

Make no mistake, Ms. Austin, the famous fitness guru who has been celebrity spokesperson for Idaho potatoes for several years, will continue in that roll and will be involved with the commission in a number of programs.

001-IdPotatoes-ConsumerThe Idaho Potato Commission's "big Idaho potato truck," on its seven-month national tour, parked in front of the nation's capital.But a seven-month national tour of the "big Idaho potato truck," which will wrap up shortly with the truck's arrival at the PMA Fresh Summit in Anaheim, CA in October, has been such a phenomenal success that the commission has chosen to feature the truck, and the "tater team" that has been traveling with the truck, in its new TV commercials for the 2012-2013 season.

The commission also announced at its annual meeting in August that the big Idaho potato truck will be going on a second national tour next year.

The new ad campaign "premiered on national television on ESPN during the Boise State vs. Michigan State game last Friday night, said Frank Muir, president of the commission, Nov. 11. "It will be on national cable television beginning in mid-October" and continuing through February. the campaign will be carried on "a variety of news programs like CNN and FOX News" as well as Food Network, The Cooking Channel, HGTV, The History Chanel and several other national cable channels.

Driving the decision to feature the big Idaho potato truck in the TV campaign was the resounding success of the truck's first seven-month tour. "It has become very clear that everyone in America wants to have their picture taken with this truck," Mr. Muir said.

By the end of the tour, the truck will have travelled over 15,000 miles, visited some 150 cities in 35 states across the country, and in every market, TV crews and news teams were on hand for the occasion, generating more than 250 million media impressions. Additionally, "literally, our Tater Team that travels with the truck have cameras pointed at them every second of the day -- when they are on the road, when they are parked at a restaurant, when they are stopped at locations, when the truck is parked at hotels. They are always on stage. There are always people taking pictures" of the truck and the crew.

When the truck visited McCormick Place in Chicago during the National Restaurant Association show, even the mayor of Chicago came out to get his picture taken with the truck.

We can't even measure the kind of social media we have generated from this," Mr. Muir said. "There are always people taking pictures" of the truck or getting their pictures taken with it and posting them on Facebook.

"So we decided to give all of America the opportunity to see the truck" by featuring it in the TV commercials, 'and we're having some fun with it," he said.

The commercial starts out with a potato grower in Caldwell, ID, named Mark Coombs, talking about how "a few months ago we sent out this truck and crew to tell everyone about our 75th anniversary," Mr. Muir said. Then, as the video shows quick images of the truck at travelling across America and "the crew having a great time, not worrying about coming home at all," Mr. Coombs, in a humorous vein, sounding like a forlorn father missing his own child, shows a picture of the truck and pleads, "If you see him, please tell him it's time to come home."

There are two versions of the commercial, Mr. Muir said. "One is focused primarily on the truck itself. The second version ... shows more images of the Tater Team. The two commercials will rotate on a 50-50 rotation."

Images on the side of the truck feature the "Famous Potatoes - Grown in Idaho" seal, the commission's 75th anniversary logo, the commission's partnership with Meals on Wheels "which our tater truck is raising awareness and funds for," the American Heart Association's Heart Check certification mark and the logo of the "Famous Idaho Potato Bowl" football game to be played Dec. 15 at Boise State's Bronco Stadium. "We are leveraging all of our different programs as the truck drives across America," Mr. Muir said, and those images are also featured in the TV ads.

In other activities, Denise Austin "will be doing two different public service radio announcements" for the commission "to encourage families to be active and to follow a healthy diet that features Idaho potatoes," he said. "We expect to receive between 6,000 and 12,000 broadcasts of those spots," generating from 25 million to 50 million listeners. "We are also going to be running a recipe contest on her website during February," which is Heart Health Month as well as Potato Lovers' Month.

The commission is currently in its second year as title sponsor of the Idaho Potato Bowl game which gives Idaho potatoes year-long signage on both the inside and outside of the stadium, he said.

Also, "we continue our sponsorship of Boise State football and University of Idaho football. We are in our third year of that six-year contract.," he said.

The commission will be continuing this year with its recipe-of-the-month photo contest. "We have been doing this for the past year, and it has been very successful," Mr. Muir said. "We send out a recipe without a photograph and encourage people to buy Idaho potatoes, make the recipe, take a photo of it, and send it to us. we pick one winner each month."

This year, the commission will be "targeting via social media a program we call Smashed Spuddy Buddy to reach a younger audience ... using Idaho's First Lady, Mrs. Lorrie Otter. We will be going into schools and showing them how they can use our animated video that features Spuddy Buddy [the Idaho Potato Commission's mascot] showing kids how potatoes are grown and harvested."

The commission also continues to do promotions with Mr. Food. "We are going to be creating two new videos" for Mr. Food's syndicated TV show, one for fall and one for spring, he said. The entire segments of the show, in each case, will focus on Idaho potatoes.