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Ben & Jerry's Lets Subways, Cabs and Spoons Help Vote for Ice Creams

Food truck-based initiative entails cool social twists

Ben & Jerry's social-media-minded summer campaign allows consumers to vote online for potential new ice cream flavors. Yeah, that's not exactly new. But while brands like Lay's have been running similar efforts for months, Ben & Jerry's new digital shop, 360i, came up with a truly intriguing twist—subway trains, yellow cabs, plastic spoons, mustaches and beards count as votes, too.

The digital-and-offline initiative centers on the whereabouts of the brand's 11-stop "Scoop Truck" tour, which will be in Washington, D.C., for a month starting on Monday. While the truck visits the nation's capital, every Red line subway train that arrives on time at the Metro Center station will count as a vote for the Oregon Cherries flavor. Orange line trains that come in at the transit station on time will garner a tally for Fairtrade Bananas flavor. Of course, this public-transportation-based aspect—technically possible by tapping into the data feeds of the city's metro system—is designed to fit into the brand's eco-friendly ethos.

When the Scoop Truck arrives in New York City on July 1, the Burlington, Vt.-based company will count hybrid-powered cabs that are driving via Gotham's Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Uptown-bound hybrid cabs are worth a vote for Peppermint, while Fairtrade Vanilla gets a tally for such vehicles going downtown.

Consumers will spearhead the voting, as they'll be able to make their preferences known via Twitter, Facebook and a "City Churned" microsite. And there are a few eco-minded offline options that will be manually executed. For instance, when a Scoop Truck (there are two of them, one going up the East Coast and one going up the West Coast) arrives in Portland, Ore., on July 18, the number of mustaches spotted walking into Cartopia, the city's dedicated food-cart plaza, by the truck employees will result in a vote for Marshmallows. Bearded faces will count as a vote for Graham Crackers. Once consumers are done eating their Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the truck, they can throw their spoon into a variety of recycling boxes that are labeled with an ice cream ingredient. Every spoon in each receptacle is a vote for that flavor.

Ben & Jerry's is also encouraging consumers to create and name an ice cream flavor while tweeting or Facebook-posting their ideas. It builds on what has been a bit of a tradition with the brand's Scoop Truck, which has implored folks to tweet during the last three years in exchange for free ice cream.

The East Coast truck was seen in Miami and Tampa this spring before heading north last week. After the New York stop, it will go to Hartford, Conn., and Boston for roughly monthlong stays before the end of September. In addition to Portland, the West Coast truck is visiting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Tasting events at five of those municipalities will be held later this summer, letting consumers have a first crack at the winning flavors.

"We haven't done anything at this scale in multiple markets before," Mike Hayes, assistant digital marketing manager for Ben & Jerry's, told Adweek. Hayes said that Ben & Jerry's is purchasing location-based Facebook and Twitter ads to support the offline component. "We will make sure that people in each market are aware of what's going on," he said.

A 360i rep exlained that a chief campaign goal is "to capture the pulse and unique elements of each city as a means toward making the flavor even more locally driven and inspired."

Meanwhile, video footage of each city's quirks will be used in multimedia banner ads on city-specific websites to drive residents to the City Churned microsite.

"The bottom line is, we are trying to increase our sales," Hayes added. "But this is also about developing deeper relationships with our fans."

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