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Big Idaho Potato Truck outfitted with new potato for next 10 years on the road

When the original Big Idaho Potato Truck was created and dispatched on a nationwide tour for the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission in 2012, it was only intended to last for one season. There were no plans to extend the Famous Idaho Potato Tour beyond that first year.ipc

But the tour was so successful and the realistic-looking giant tuber such a sensation everywhere it went that the tour was extended for a second season in 2013, then another, then another. Currently, it is on its seventh nationwide tour, and its popularity continues to grow. The attention the massive replica of an Idaho russet continues to receive from the media — and in social media — and the huge crowds it draws everywhere it goes — surpassed its creators’ expectations.

Playing off of the tour’s success, the IPC made the Big Idaho Potato Truck — and its perpetual itineration from place to place and event to event all over the country — the focus of an award-winning seven years of television advertising.

After more than 150,000 miles on the road, making stops in over 7,000 cities in 48 states, the original concrete potato began to wear out.

The giant spud was ready to be retired, but the tour itself was on a roll. What was intended to be a one-year public relations promotion, as Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer, put it, proved to be among the most successful and popular PR campaigns in history.

The truck has now been fitted with a new and more durable potato — this one built of fiberglass over a steel frame. The commission unveiled the new touring tuber at an Albertsons Supermarket in Boise, ID, June 21.

The big potato truck has become “part of American pop culture,” Muir said. “Millions of people have posted photos of the truck on their own social media.”

The new potato is a little narrower than the 12-foot width of the original version, which will “allow access to some areas we couldn’t go to” previously, Muir said. Like its predecessor, “it looks very real.”

Both giant potatoes are the work of sculptors Chris and Sharolyn Schofield of Weiser, ID.

The concept for the Big Idaho Potato Truck and the tour originated with Foerstel Design in Boise, a marketing and design firm that works for the commission, and Santa Barbara, CA-based Evans Hardy + Young, the commission’s advertising agency. According to Foerstel’s Laura Martin, about eight years ago the two agencies were tasked with coming up with concepts to promote the commission’s 75th anniversary, one of the designers, recollecting an old post card depicting a giant Idaho potato on a truck, suggested “wouldn’t it be cool to do something like that, only bigger and better,” not on a post card but on an actual truck.

The potato and the rig to haul it took over a year to build, but it was completed in time to put on the road for an IPC 75th Anniversary cross-country jaunt, with Martin managing the tour and the logistics and Sue Kennedy of EHY working to procure media coverage.

“Before the truck was finished, we knew it was going to be a huge success no matter where it went, because it was so awesome,” Kennedy said.

From the outset, “we started getting so much media,” Martin said. They also began to be inundated with appearance requests, far more than the schedule could accommodate.

“That is kind of unheard of,” she said. “How many marketing programs can you think of where people ask you to bring your advertising to their event?”

The truck “has made some pretty cool appearances,” said Muir. It appears regularly in the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC, and in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It appeared in the Pittsburg St. Patrick’s Day parade after parade officials made almost daily requests for nearly a year. It appeared at the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame Game parade in Canton, OH, and at the Sea Fair Festival Parade in Seattle commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle. It visited NASA where astronaut Clayton Anderson “did the moon walk on top of the giant spud and then declared, America now has its own Spudnick.”

The truck has also floated on a barge on the Hudson River, traveling past the Statue of Liberty. It has driven around a Nascar track in the Poconos. And two years ago, it escorted the delivery of the Capital Christmas Tree, an 80-foot Engelmann Spruce, from the Payette National Forest in Idaho to Washington, DC.

In addition to the big events, the truck has made numerous appearances at much smaller events. In Waynesboro, VA, it made a four-hour stop, by request, at a restaurant that serves Idaho potato fresh cut fries. That appearance got media coverage from Maine to Hawaii, Martin said.

Martin attributes the successes not just to the truck but to the great people that make up the Tater Teams on the tours. “People love the teams. We have been so fortunate with all of the Tater Teams that we have ever hired,” she said.

“My favorite part of the Big Idaho Potato Truck Tour is our charity component we call A Big Helping,” Muir said.

The tour has partnered with major charitable organizations such as Meals on Wheels, the American Heart Association, and RODS Racing, but in addition, the Famous Idaho Potato Tour often partners with a local charity, usually of the event organizer’s choice. “We have helped pet rescues, boys and girls clubs, school PE programs, advocates programs, it has run the gamut,” said Martin. “That has been really fun and value-added part of our campaign.”