A giant stolen (and recovered!) spoonful of smart PR

In the “bizarre news” roundup, you may have seen that last week a 15-foot-tall red spoon was stolen from the front of a Dairy Queen in Phoenix. The Associated Press reported on the incident March 30, stating surveillance footage showed two thieves disassembling it with precision and escaping with it on “a small motorbike.” (Yes, I have looked, but not yet found this video — I very much want to see what that looked like.)

The oversized ice cream utensil, a recognizable part of DQ’s branding, would cost around $7,000 to replace, so the owners of this Dairy Queen franchise issued a public offer to let the spoon-snatchers return the item, no questions asked. In fact, they’d sweeten the pot (literally) by offering a free Blizzard item from every flavor of the summer menu if the spoon was returned safely.

This simple, earnest appeal to the public, along with honest puzzlement from the owners — Puja and Raman Kalra, a married couple who immigrated from India in 2007 — was a winning combination, in terms of public relations, or PR.

“I appeal to this person,” Raman Kalra told People Magazine. “The spoon is too big to eat anything.” His wife, Puja, added that it had been a popular spot to take selfies for Instagram.

Local news leaned into the puns with enthusiasm, asking if anyone had an “inside scoop” on the suspects, and urged the thieves to “fork it over,” no questions asked. The story ended up on television, in newspapers across the country, and even on the Today Show’s website and in People’s Twitter feed. As these stories circulated, it gave customers an opportunity to repost those big spoon selfies and also invent theories on what one could possibly do with a giant red spoon.

A simple decision on how to react is what made PR lemonade from what otherwise would have been a $7,000 lemon for the franchise owners. The offer to forgive and forget (while also bringing attention to their delicious Blizzard treats by featuring them as a reward) has paid off far, far more than any ad campaign they might have purchased locally for $7,000. The Kalras likely got some PR help from Dairy Queen’s corporate headquarters as events unfolded. After all, brand recognition is being boosted in cities all over the United States — I even heard a local DJ mention it yesterday between songs during my commute!

This franchise is still riding that wave. Flyers asking about the spoon’s whereabouts are popping up at other locations, and the Phoenix DQ staff will soon be wearing “Where’s my spoon?” shirts. People everywhere are expressing their hopes that the spoon will be returned, and locals are on the lookout for it.

This is a lesson in resilience, creativity and, really, the American spirit. What could have been a small note in the weekly crime report became an irresistible feel-good story. And it’s what we in the business call a “two-fer”: either way the story ends, there will be a second wave of coverage — either to document the return of the prodigal spoon, however it is found, or to herald the installation of a new replacement spoon, if it comes to that.

…Aaaaaand I no sooner had typed that sentence when news broke this week that the spoon had been discovered in an empty schoolyard by Michael Foster, a 52-year-old man playing Pokémon Go who could not believe his luck at finding the celebrated object. Once again, major outlets are releasing stories, the mayor of Phoenix has released a statement — and the new angle of how a popular mobile game is responsible for the spoon’s recovery has brought in a whole different audience, as gamer blogs and outlets now repurpose the saga.

It just does not get any sweeter than this in the PR world. And I don’t know about you, but I’m already craving a Blizzard!

Celestia Ward is now the PR Coordinator at Imagine Communications, but at the age of 15 her first job was serving ice cream (with pink spoons) at a Las Vegas Baskin-Robbins.

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