The spirit of P.T. Barnum lives in the folks over at the Idaho Potato Commission.
The legendary showman was a master at promotion. The stunts he employed to draw crowds to his shows and museums were often as good as, and sometimes better than, the attractions they promoted.
"Without promotion something terrible happens," he once said. "Nothing!"
If nothing happens to Idaho potatoes, it won't be for lack of effort on the part of the commission. It spends $8 million each year promoting Idaho spuds. Within the last few weeks it has announced a couple of oversized efforts that would have made Barnum proud.
The commission will pay $2.49 million over six years to be the name sponsor of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The game, played at Bronco Stadium in Boise and broadcast on ESPN, features the top teams from the Mid-Atlantic Conference and Western Athletic Conference. In addition to TV, radio and print advertising that come as part of its deal with game organizers, the commission expects to garner hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity in media coverage of the game and its associated events.
Grand as that is, we admire the showmanship involved in a promotion IPC will kick off during the game as part of a celebration of its 75th anniversary. Taking inspiration from an iconic Idaho postcard from the 1950s and '60s, the commission plans to build a giant potato, mount it on a custom-built tractor trailer and haul it around the country.
"Every town it stops in, the local reporters and TV stations are going to cover it," IPC Chairman Jim Tiede said. "It's going to be splashed all over the TV."
He's right. Oscar Mayer's Wienermobiles have been touring the country since 1936 and never fail to generate local crowds and coverage. There's something about gigantic fiberglass foodstuffs that reporters and children of all ages find difficult to resist.
Whether any of this will lead to increased sales of Idaho potatoes remains to be seen. Frank Muir, IPC's president and CEO, said there's a direct correlation between the commission's advertising and promotion campaigns and sales of Idaho potatoes. Marketing experts tell us that the real value of these types of promotions is that they keep a product at the top of consumers' minds and form favorable impressions.
In that department, we think Idaho potato producers are getting their money's worth. At a time when potatoes are under assault from self-styled food experts, the first lady and the USDA, the value of consumer goodwill is immeasurable.