Last June 9, as participants in the Rose Festival Parade lined up in downtown Portland, a truck drew most of the attention. It wasn’t just any truck; it was the Big Idaho Potato Truck, a 72-foot-long semi with a 4-ton fiberglass potato on its flatbed.
Welcome to world of marketing. The truck and its big, whopping potato stem from a famous postcard of a giant potato on a truck with the caption, “We grow ’em big here in Idaho.”
As it turns out, there’s no better way to attract attention than to show up with the Big Idaho Potato Truck staffed by the Tater Team — Jessica, Kaylee and Ron the driver.
In the case of the Rose Parade, upwards of 1.2 million people saw the truck, which certainly sparked conversations about, of all things, Idaho potatoes.
And that’s the point.
Raising public awareness of a crop isn’t easy. Once you get beyond the basics — “Potatoes are good for you,” “Potatoes taste good,” “Potatoes are versatile” — you have to do something to keep up the conversation.
That’s where marketing comes in. The Big Idaho Potato Truck is just one part of the toolkit the Idaho Potato Commission has developed to get the Idaho Potato brand in front of the public. The commission sponsors a college football bowl game, buys national advertising, does promotions and uses dozens of other tools to promote the state’s potatoes. Processors are even adopting the Idaho brand as part of their advertising and labeling.
While some may call it into question as an added expense, marketing, done right, makes money. The biggest brands in the nation use it. Banks, consumer goods manufacturers, car makers, retailers all use marketing as their game plan to raise the public’s awareness of their products and services and to set themselves apart from the crowd.
And it’s hard to argue with success. During the last 15 years the farm-gate revenue from Idaho potatoes is up more than 80 percent. Not bad. Considering the alternative — selling a straight commodity — marketing has done a good job for Idaho potato growers.
“There is more brand recognition for Idaho potatoes than for almost anything in the country,” Potato Growers of Idaho Executive Director Keith Esplin told Capital Press reporter Brad Carlson. “If they would quit that, in a few years potatoes would be a generic product.”
The Idaho Potato Commission and its president and CEO, Frank Muir, brought the marketing campaign to life. Starting 15 years ago, they recognized the need to make Idaho potatoes stand out from other crops and cause consumers to seek out Idaho potatoes.
“Were these potatoes grown in Idaho? That is what we want people to ask,” Muir said.
Other crops and agricultural products also market themselves — think Tillamook cheese, Washington apples, Walla Walla onions, Hermiston watermelons, California milk, among many others. Those farmers understand that there’s more to it than growing a high-quality crop or producing a high-quality product. Marketing and advertising attract, inform and motivate customers.
That’s where the Idaho Potato Commission — and many others in agriculture — excel.