The public has become incredibly cynical about the gimmicky promo tricks some brands throw at us so we’ll part ways with our hard-earned money. We’re not stupid, and we all know that nothing in life is free: buy one and get one free isn’t free at all — and neither is the “free checking” your bank offers new customers or that free coffee waiting at the end of your stamped loyalty card.
In the end, we all pay for free stuff with our time, money and/or energy. Nevertheless, Ben & Jerry’s just proved, by way of its 34th annual Free Cone Day, that the public is willing to go a little further than usual in the interest of free ice cream. In fact, eager customers around the world crashed the brand’s website while trying to locate the nearest of 650 stores in 20 countries where they might score some free frozen sugar. This is a public relations success for Ben & Jerry’s on every level.
Ben & Jerry’s took time to build a brand and subsequent relationship with its customers. From its humble beginnings to its current state as the king of all things cream, Ben & Jerry’s has been unapologetically itself — and the public appreciates its founders’ quirky self-awareness. Too often brands and companies attempt to lure in customers by offering freebies. While this may result in a small PR bump, industry experts know those important brand-and-consumer bonds take time to develop (just like relationships between people).
By characterizing Free Cone Day as a customer appreciation exercise and not a superficial grab for new business, the brand demonstrates a confidence that only comes with truly understanding the brand and its consumer base well. After 34 years in the business, Ben & Jerry’s knew the public wouldn’t react cynically. The brand isn’t reaching out; it’s giving back.
The public is cool with that. It’s the kind of free we don’t mind paying for, because it’s an investment in something we already know and love — folks in the industry call it “brand loyalty.” Now bring on the cookie dough!