Watching the Grass Grow
By Jennifer Zegler
How grassroots marketing is benefiting a varied mix of candy category players.
Grassroots marketing, a tactic usually reserved for those with limited budgets, is attracting more converts from companies big and small. As Americans become increasingly inundated with advertising, creative marketers and thinkers are heralding grassroots efforts as alternatives to traditional print and electronic advertising. Grassroots marketing success stories, like the Long Grove Chocolate Fest in Illinois, provide examples of innovative, localized thinking.
This marketing technique can take a variety of forms. Jeff and Rich Sloan, co-founders of StartupNation, a Website about succeeding in your own business, define it as, “An untraditional form of creating awareness and demand that draws more upon energy and creativity than pocket book.”
Nancy Tamosaitis, president and founder of Vorticom, a public relations and marketing firm in New York, helped launch Momints liquid-filled breath fresheners and XPL gum for Yosha! Enterprises with what she describes as “360-degree branding.”
“We call it the ripple effect,” says Kyle Potvin, principal of New England-based Splash Communications. “Start with an initial splash of local partnerships, frequent message reinforcement and loyal support from unpaid brand ambassadors. From there, each positive association or interaction produces ripples about your product, company or services that continue to expand throughout the community.”
Grassroots marketing initiatives are not limited to small companies with modest budgets. The Hershey Co., for example, used a grassroots touch when spreading the word about its recently introduced Take 5 candy bars. Last spring, to launch the bar, Hershey staged a “Five Million Bar Giveaway Challenge.” Coupled with giveaways on the street, those who visited the Hershey Website could fill out a form to receive a free candy bar. Those who completed the form were then prompted to give the name of five friends to invite them to participate.
Celebrating chocolate
A more typical example of grass-roots marketing, however, is the six-year-old Long Grove Chocolate Fest in Long Grove, Ill.
“It started because of a suggestion of one our merchants who had seen a similar festival in Wisconsin, where it was very successful,” reports Peg Ball, president of the Long Grove Merchants Association. “We thought we’d try chocolate because we have the Long Grove Confectionery here in town. They’ve been able to do wonderful things for us. We had a bear that is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest piece of carved chocolate.”
The festival, which takes place in early May, is a three-day extravaganza. Among its highlights is a unique “Con-fashion Show,” a chocolate and candy fashion show, where children model clothes decorated with candy. At last year’s show, the apparel included outfits decorated with JBz candies from Jelly Belly and Long Grove Confectionery chocolate, not to mention an entire dress adorned with Finger Lites flashing Candy Rings from Malibu Toys.
Diane Hardy, a previous visitor to the fest who offered her corporate training and marketing skills in a bid to attract more sponsors and visitors, came up with the idea of the “Con-fashion Show,” which will be held for the third time in 2006.
The show now is a big draw, garnering media attention as well as being a fun event for those involved.
As she worked to get the fashion show off the ground, Hardy found that the concept was so singular that it was hard to explain in its infancy. “The fashion show started slow in its first year, as only presenting sponsor Jelly Belly and Long Grove Confectionery believed in this new event,” Hardy explains. “Candy on clothes? Kids wearing licorice belts? Crushed candy cane dresses? Shoes made of cacao? It was as risky as can be!” Fortunately, however, it was well received, as adorable kids strutted their stuff to the sounds of candy-themed tunes, and Hardy expects it to be a major draw in coming years.
After an uphill battle in its premier year, the Chocolate Fest event attracted more sponsors like gourmet chocolate brand, Ghirardelli, explains Hardy. Knowing how to properly treat sponsors is another key to the Long Grove Chocolate Fest’s success, Hardy continues.
“Taking on a local marketing program means getting the most local bang for your buck,” she says. “This means the sponsorship manager has to do more than have the venue slap your banner on stage, plant you in a remote booth location where people won’t visit you and forget about you. It means getting your branding on all marketing vehicles plus excellent onsite exposure and making sure you have a good location to meet and greet your community.”
The fest also contributes to the community by choosing a designated charity to support.  The 2006 “Con-fashion Show” will spotlight the Special Olympics, Hardy reports. “We’re hoping to have one of the athletes in the fashion show. The fashion show helps as an awareness campaign. We encourage donations, mention them in the script, talk about all the terrific things they do, and they have a table with information and maybe a game. It’s a really nice tie-in with the kids and the organization,” she says. n
For more information about the Long Grove Chocolate Fest or about starting a similar fest in your area, Diane Hardy can be reached at