Everyone loves free ice cream, and four Boston brands know it

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There is a specific type of bell that can get my attention even if you ring it softly from 100 yards away.  I don’t know what it is called, and I would be hard pressed to even describe it, but it is one of those sounds that I would know anywhere.  I have a Pavlovian reaction, really, since each time I hear it I instinctively turn around and look for the Ice Cream Man.

He was a little old man who, for as long as I could remember, drove the ice cream truck where my family vacationed.  He would shake half a dozen or so of these bells from the top of the dune to announce his presence in the parking lot.  For the uninitiated, after the bells came a hand painted piece of wood with two words  on it: Ice Cream.

Before he could raise his sign the sound of those bells had every kid on the beach scurrying from Cape Cod Bay and back up the sand with our hands outstretched.  Who needed the ocean to cool off when there was ice cream, and what’s better than free (at least for us kids) ice cream?

For my money, not much.  I love the stuff, and your stock will go way up in my book if you start handing it out.  Fortunately for all of us, there are a few Boston brands that are ensuring I can get a free fix.  They’ve figured out that the kid in all of us is an emotional sweet spot that opens right up when ice cream is at stake.

The Red Cross is one outfit that is using ice cream as the pathway to our hearts (and arteries), although technically it isn’t free — you do need to let them take a pint of blood.  That’s not a bad deal; you give the gift of life and receive a coupon for a free quart of Friendly’s ice cream for the effort.  Talk about a win-win.

If you can’t make it to one of the Red Cross’ dozens of donation sites around the area, fear not — the ice cream can come to you.  Ben and Jerry’s has a truck out roaming about the streets of Boston and the surrounding areas handing out free samples of their deliciousness.  Want them to stop by your office?  Send them a tweet at @BenJerrysTruck and ask them to pay a visit to you and your co-workers.  Corporate blogger and President of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Paul Levy did yesterday, and it looks like the truck will be visiting today.  Talk about a way to boost employee morale!

If frozen drinks – no, not those kind – are more your thing, the hamburger joint b.good is now sporting a jet black ice cream truck with orange flames painted down the side.  They are handing out free shakes downtown, in the Back Bay, and in communities with one of their restaurants as a way to drum up business.  They are also responding to tweets at @b_good_, so get social and get a free shake.

Ben and Jerry’s and b.good are both looking to boost sales, and even the Red Cross is hoping donations will pick up during the traditionally slow summer months by offering this promotion.  The Boston Police Department isn’t one of those organizations looking to increase its activity — but it  has realized that giving kids free ice cream is a great way to boost their brand, so they’ve gotten in on the action, too.

Operation Hoodsie Cup has officers driving their own truck of ice creamy awesomeness to city parks and playgrounds through Labor Day.  Uniformed officers will hand out free Hoodsies, interact with kids and teens, and hopefully build a rapport with them.  They won’t make a special trip to see you, but if you follow them on Twitter at @Boston_Police or check out their website they will share their route for the day.

Other cities call their cruisers black and whites, but no one wants to see the inside of one — a Hoodsie, on the other hand,  is a black and white every mother would be happy to see her child get in to.  And that’s really the point of all of these efforts.  Whether trying to sell a hamburger, establish a friendly relationship with inner city kids, or convince someone to voluntarily get stuck with a needle, associating a brand (especially retail) with a positive, innocent, universal theme can tap into hidden reserves of loyalty.  Ice cream puts a smile on everybody’s face.  What brand doesn’t go well with smiles?

[Update: In the “every party has a pooper” department, it turns out not every mother wants to see their kids dig into a Hoodsie.]

Photo (cc) by Pink Sherbet Photography used under this creative commons license.


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