Big Red Truck reaches rock star status
Boise—The Big Red Idaho Potato Truck is back on the road for the 6th consecutive year.
The potato truck travels the highways carrying a giant 6-ton Russet Burbank potato and causes a stir everywhere it goes.
This week the truck started its 2017 campaign at the Children’s Festival in Houston, Texas.
The Idaho Potato Commission dreamed up the potato truck promotion to observe the commissions’ 75th year in 2009. We sat down and talked to Commission President and CEO Frank Muir about the Big Red Trucks rise to stardom.
In your wildest dreams did you think the Big Red Truck would still be on the road?
I don’t think you can anticipate the success of any program, we hope for it but can never anticipate it. The intent of the program six years ago was to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission. It was such a blow-away success that every place we went they wanted us back the next year. It seems that everywhere we went the Red Truck generated additional publicity and other cities started calling to see if we could visit with them.
So the Big Red Truck steamrolled onto the scene?
Oh yea! Several major retailers wanted The Big Red Truck to visit all their stores in America, we knew that this promotion had wheels, if I can use the pun. That was our intent, just to celebrate that 75th anniversary but also to raise money for Meals on Wheels. We were joking that the potato was the biggest meal on wheels. But we continue to expand and theres more and more interest across the country, we found that the cause marketing part of our program was very important. When we roll into town, we find out a cause thats important to that community and we help raise money for them. It’s a way to connect emotionally with that community and it brings a little love from Idaho. Idaho potatoes are a national brand and its embraced nationwide, even worldwide. That’s important in this day and age. We’ve found with the rise of locavores, thats people buying food locally, they can’t picture anything other than an Idaho potato.
In terms of impact and the all powerful impressions, is there a way to measure impact in social media world that changes from day to day.
Yes and no—We used to try and measure it, and we can measure the TV coverage. As you know, we bought time on CNN and in all the major markets, yet we get news coverage in every market we go into. Every local news station is covering one of our visits in each and every town at least 95-percent of the time. So we get that coverage, we also get the followup print coverage and often there’s live radio programing going on at our events. Whats immeasurable is all the social media that we get that we don't have control over. We do a great job sending out our videos, our Tater team that travels with the truck does a great job creating very funny, educational videos that get good air time in social media. We cannot measure all the people nationwide that’s taken a photo of the truck and posted it on social media. We’ve left a mark, thats for sure. Think of all the families across American that have had their picture taken with the truck, and it ends up their family Christmas card and they’re not even from Idaho. We can’t begin to measure those impacts.
We know the Big Red Truck and the giant spud are celebrities, any other spin offs?
Our driver, Larry Bathe he is a celebrity when it comes to driving the truck around but he’s not a farmer. Now the farmer looking for a truck in the ad, he's a real potato farmer. Mark Coombs grows potatoes out in Caldwell Idaho, he's a genuine, real McCoy potato farmer, Larry is a genuine truck driver and his 4th tour of duty driving the truck and couldn’t be happier. He says when he's back home and driving, he’ll have is window down and waving at everyone and only then realizes that he’s not in the Big Red Truck. He’s so used to people smiling, waving, taking photos of him and the truck he forgets when he’s back home.
Whats the campaign done for the Russet Burbank potato?
When you’re rolling a 6-ton Russet Burbank across the country folks get interested in it. You can’t imagine the age range in terms of people wanting to see the truck. From little babies to grandparents, they all want to see the giant potato and get a photo with the truck. It has reached the point where people remember where they were when they had the photo taken with the giant Russet Burbank. In terms of the exposure we get, we do a potato lovers promotion and put up 5-thousand huge displays nationwide of the Russet and the truck. That visibility, along with our commercials and events have raised the profile of the truck, potato and even our farmer. Mark Coombs recently was with his family in Florida on vacation and as he was boarding a plane, a business man looked up from his paper and asked if he found the truck yet! We don’t use his name in the commercial, but he was recognized from the commercial. It happens to him all the time, people connect with that commercial, the truck and they like the message. We carry the grown in Idaho seal, that means quality to consumers.
Has the campaign brought out elements of the potato that consumers have embraced?
On the truck we have all kinds of nutritional messages, we also carry the American Heart Association heart checkmark which certifies that Idaho potatoes are heart healthy, we are gluten free, so we are riding the gluten-free wave as well. We have more potassium than a banana, more vitamin C than apples and they’re finding that the potato is a very nutritious food. Even Dr. Oz pointed out the benefits of potatoes last week on his show. He spent 20 minutes talking about how folks should be eating more potatoes.
Do you have Big Red Truck stats?
The truck has traveled more than 100-thousand miles, we will hit more than 60 cities this tour and many major events like the Kentucky Derby, NFL Hall of Fame Game, Washington DC Memorial Day Parade.