CAMPAIGNS: Event PR - B&J’s gives out the big scoop

Client: Ben & Jerry’s Homemade

Client: Ben & Jerry’s Homemade

Client: Ben & Jerry’s Homemade

PR Team: In-house staff

Campaign: 22nd Annual Free Cone Day

Time Frame: April 18, 2000

Budget: N/A (about 80 staff hours)

In 1979, ice cream kings Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield began passing

out free cones one day a year to celebrate their first anniversary in

business. Franchisees carried on the tradition for years without much

help or hindrance from ’central support’ (B&J’s eschews the word


Beyond supplying a few press release templates, the main office didn’t

get too involved until last year. When people began sending around

e-mail to let friends know about ’Free Cone Day,’ jaded reporters -

sniffing a scoop - thought it was just another something-for-nothing

Internet hoax.

B&J’s sent out VNRs confirming that the ice cream would indeed be on the

house and wrote a press release picked up by

The company Web site got so many hits the server crashed, and B&J’s gave

away a record 580,000 cones. Encouraged by 1999’s success, the company

set a goal of handing out a million free scoops this year.


Strategy might be too strong a word to describe the planning that went

into Free Cone Day 2000. Coincidentally, several elements came together

drawing more attention to this year’s event. The company announced just

a week earlier that it would be acquired by Unilever but retain

independent management. ’Free Cone Day ended up being a great

opportunity to visually and gastronomically let people realize that

nothing had changed,’ says PR manager Chrystie Heimert.

International stores also decided to get into the act for the first



Last year’s unintentional, viral Internet publicity showed B&J’s the

potential of promoting Free Cone Day on its already popular Web


The first step was to upgrade the company’s server to avoid a repeat


B&J’s creative staff are Mac freaks, so the company casually partnered

with Apple to produce an iMovie and iCard available on B&J’s Web


Apple did not seek to promote itself but signed off on press releases,

Heimert says. B&J’s also created a ’virtual cone’ screen saver that

could be downloaded.

The PR staff targeted online press as well as traditional media. To play

up the international aspects of this year’s Free Cone Day, scoopers wore

t-shirts decorated with the word ’thanks’ in all applicable



B&J’s scooped more than 700,000 free cones April 18, including 22,000 in

foreign stores.

From a media perspective, Heimert says Free Cone Day garnered about 70

broadcast hits around the country, including coverage in New York from

CNBC, The Associated Press and the local CBS affiliate. Print

impressions have not yet been counted.


’Next year, we will hit that million cones if we have to eat them

ourselves,’ Heimert vows.

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