Local marketing tip: Make a bad situation better

Sept. 23, 2011 | by Alicia Kelso

It seems me and my fellow residents of Louisville, Ky., have an extreme dependency on our cars. This has especially been evidenced within the past two weeks.

One of the few Ohio River bridges connecting Kentucky and Indiana was abruptly shut down due to the discovery of debilitating structural cracks. The bridge handles 80,000 vehicles a day, mostly commuters, and the initial closure delayed rush hour travels up to two hours.

Some have called the situation Louisville's "Carmageddon."

Amidst this road rage-inducing, patience-thinning mess, one local pizza chain has defined what it means to make lemonade out of lemons.

Between 4 and 5 p.m. for three days – Sept. 13-15 – three-unit Impellizzeri's, which has been a Derby City staple since 1979, handed out free pizza slices to motorists stuck on the alternative bridge ramp.

The company didn't run a big promotion about the giveaway. There was no press release. You wouldn't have known what was going on by visiting its website. You simply had to be stuck in a traffic jam.

How's that for subtle marketing?

One news channel, Louisville's WHAS11, did pick up the story after the giveaway began. They spoke to Wes Phelps of Impellizzeri's, who said the effort was a way to make the situation "a little easier to swallow."

According to comments on Impellizzeri's Facebook page, it did just that for many people.

One fan said the slice of pizza was a wonderful surprise and lifted her spirits. Another said "sitting in traffic stinks, but the pizza was a welcomed change to the commute."

And a poster thanked the company and said the pizza made traffic "not so bad." It was this statement that spiked others' curiosity and generated more comments, to which Impellizzeri's responded, again, that they were just trying to make things a little easier.

Phelps told WHAS that the company had given away six 18-inch pizzas in the first 20 minutes on the first day. He said Impellizzeri's did the same thing at another unit three years ago when there was a snowstorm in Louisville.

"We gave away slices to people stuck in traffic during a snow emergency and we thought about that the other day ... with the bridge being out and the traffic the way it is, we'd help these folks out on their way home," Phelps said.

Maybe this is what local marketing is about: Not much bell ringing; few whistles. Just a willingness to give away some free food combined with a great idea on how to make people's lives a little better.

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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