Frozen treat wars? Dairy Queen giving free cones; Rita's Ice next


Dessert giants are competing to welcome spring by giving away free frozen treats.
Dairy Queen is celebrating its 75th anniversary with free ice cream Monday. Customers will be given a free small vanilla cone at participating locations.
Just a few days later on March 20, Rita's Italian Ice is giving customers a free Italian Ice to mark the first day of spring.
And next month, when spring is in full swing, Ben & Jerry's will be offering its Free Cone Day on April 14.
While it might seem like customers are getting the better end of the deal with freebies, companies are actually cashing in on the idea that there really is "no free lunch," according to Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business.
"There is no more powerful marketing term than free," Galloway says.
Unilever, a consumer good groups and the maker of Ben & Jerry's, predicted another slow year because of slowdowns in emerging markets, Reuter's reported in January. The company makes more than half of its sales in emerging markets, so it's hit hard by slow demand in once burgeoning markets.
"We do not plan on a significant improvement in market conditions in 2015," Chief Executive Paul Polman said, Reuters reported.
Many companies continue with annual traditions like freebies even if they aren't profitable, because customers expect it, says David A. Aaker,Vice Chairman of Prophet, a consulting agency, and author of Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success.
Galloway says that legacy businesses and startups use freebies as a way to get people in the door.
"The business says: Try this, it's a great product, it's free," Galloway says. "They make it as easy as possible for people to use the product, love it and hopefully can't go without it. Sampling or free has only grown in importance of marketing lexicon."
Rita's Italian Ice giveaway has been going on for 23 years. Last year 1.2 million cups of Italian Ice were given away in a nine-hour period, according to the company's website. In the last decade, the company's store total has doubled to more than 600 in 27 states, the Associated Press reported.
Likewise, Ben & Jerry's has been holding a free cone day since the company opened its doors.
"The advantage of something free is that it doesn't really taint the brand as much as if you give a discount, if you give a discount that cheapens the brand, but free doesn't really do that," says Aaker.

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