Rita's celebrates spring with free app, Italian ice giveaway

This year marked the 21st year that Rita's Italian Ice has given away free ice on the first day of spring.

Client: Rita's Italian Ice (Trevose, PA)
Agency: Duke Marketing (San Rafael, CA)
Campaign: Rita's 21st Annual First Day of Spring Free Ice Giveaway
Duration: February - March 20, 2013
Budget: $15,000

This year marked the 21st year that Rita's Italian Ice has given away free ice on the first day of spring (March 20). AOR Duke Marketing helped plan and execute a campaign this year to drive broad awareness of the event and the launch of Rita's Rewards, a new loyalty app.   

“Visiting Rita's on the first day of spring has become a tradition of loyal guests in core Northeast markets,” says the company's SVP of marketing Laura Lazar. “Our goals were to raise national awareness for the 21st annual giveaway and to enhance awareness in our newer markets like Texas, Arizona, Florida, and the Carolinas.” 

Strategy
Given the first day of spring timing, agency CEO Linda Duke says chief meteorologists at TV stations in markets where Rita's operates were asked to broadcast the weather live on March 20 from a Rita's store.

Additional media relations, a photo contest in-store promotion, and social media and email outreach also drove awareness.

Tactics
News outlets in 48 markets, food editors, food and business trades, and deal and family-oriented bloggers were targeted.

An early March press release announced the March 20 giveaway and the app launch. A March 19 press release announced the photo contest, which ran March 20 to March 22. Quarts of Rita's ice and press kits were delivered to more than 40 TV stations and 40 radio stations nationwide on the same day. 

The contest called for photos capturing excitement about the “first taste of spring.” Participants who followed Rita's on Twitter and Instagram and uploaded their photo to Rita's Instagram page with the hashtag #ritasfirstdayofspring were entered to win the grand prize of free ice for a year.

Countdown messages and spring-related photos were regularly posted to Rita's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Rita's birthday club members got emails announcing the event and app launch.

Ice was given away in “First Day of Spring” cups with QR codes linking to the app. Flyers with coupon codes were distributed in stores.

Results  
More than 10 million cups of ice have been given since the promotion's inception. Giveaways were slightly down from 1.4 million in 2012 to 1.2 million this year. Lazar attributes this to unseasonably cold weather on the East Coast and also notes that last year's campaign included paid media.

The coupon redemption rate is at 13%. Lazar says redemption rates have been 2% to 4% for other efforts.

More than 1,000 stories ran, up 490 in 2012. Five TV stations broadcast live from a store on March 20, and 10 showed on-air talent eating Rita's ice. Coverage also ran in outlets such as Hospitality Technology and Restaurantnews.com.

The app has gotten more than 100,000 downloads (70,000 active users) to date.

The contest drew nearly 3,000 photo submissions.

Future
The team is promoting new store openings and preparing for an annual fundraising campaign benefitting Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.

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