Putting the old free-sample tactic into overdrive
By Robert Klara
Long ago, before the internet was invented, brands hoping to attract new customers cooked up the idea of handing out free samples. It remains a tried- and-true method for many brands today. Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme hand out free donuts on National Donut Day, for example. In July, 7-Eleven celebrated its 90th birthday by giving out free Slurpees for a solid week. And the legendary free sample tables at Costco are said to draw fans who can assemble an entire meal from the giveaways.
But a new chapter will soon be added to the long history of brands that give their stuff away. It’ll be about Mentos, which just finished giving out an entire truck full of chewing gum—43,000 packs, to be exact.
A giveaway on this scale turns out to be quite an undertaking, which is why Mentos enlisted a brand ambassador and, not incidentally, got some very good video footage in the process. This was because the young man in question had no idea he’d be giving away that much gum when he signed on.
“He didn’t know what was coming,” said Sylvia Buxton, marketing vp for Mentos parent Perfetti Van Melle North America. “We thought that was part of the fun.”
A few weeks ago, Mentos came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and announced that it was looking for a brand ambassador —“an opportunity to make a few extra dollars and meet a few people,” as Buxton described it. Of the hundreds of applications it received, the Sam Jeschke stood out. He was photogenic, outgoing and enthusiastic.
Equally important, however, was that Jeschke was also a freshman.
Mentos has built its brand identity around being a product that helps to connect people, and the eagerness of incoming college kids to make new friends on a big campus felt like the perfect setup. “We were brainstorming last year with our agencies, thinking about all the times when our target consumers are most in need of that helping hand to connect,” Buxton said. “Freshman [year] came up as one of those times.”
Soon after he got the job, Jeschke learned exactly what this brand ambassador job would entail—he’d be giving out 43,000 containers of gum. If Jeschke was looking forward to meeting new people in college, this would be his chance. As it turned out, 43,000 happens to be the number of people on the U of W campus, so Jeschke would be meeting everybody.
The freshman’s response: “I have never been so stunned in my life.”
Fortunately, there was also an incentive. If Jeschke managed to give all that gum away in six days, DJ Khaled would give a free concert on campus. Oh, and Mentos would also pick up Jeschke’s tuition tab for a year. The compensation package was, Buxton said, “to make sure we were giving him some skin in the game.”
With an assist from creative agency partner Fast Horse, Mentos was prepared to document the giveaway. It created a microsite (SamHasMentosGum.com), posted progress reports to Facebook and other social media channels (#SamHasMentosGum) and, of course, shot video of everything.
Jeschke visited every corner of the campus promising fellow students, “We’ll hook you up with gum!” Jeschke hands out gum from a rolling mail bin, drops gum into backpacks and tosses it long distances. But it’s Jeschke’s wide-eyed reaction to seeing the 26-foot truck full of gum he’d have to give away in the first place that’s a true highlight of the footage.
“Meeting everybody has been great,” he said, adding that he made “a lot of fresh connections.” Music to the marketing department’s ears, that.
We hate to give away the ending, but it looks like DJ Khaled will indeed be playing the university’s Kohl Center on Oct. 30.
“Sam did it like we knew he would,” the performer said. “I am coming.”
Robert Klara is a senior editor for Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.