Thursday, October 28, 2010

No cake in the face

Being written into the script of a hit network show is the sort of luck that usually involves an ancient bottle and three wishes. But when the show is the edgy “30 Rock,” your genie can turn out to be a member of the “Jackass 3D” cast.

Indeed, things could’ve been a lot worse for Carvel, the revered soft ice cream concept that figured large in last week’s episode of the NBC sitcom.

Yes, the chain’s frozen cakes were used for a flimflam. A key character in the show is given a card entitling her to free Carvel ice cream for life, a reward for dancing (albeit suggestively) on the chain’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

She and another character hit on the idea of using the card for a free cake that they asked a store’s two crewmembers to decorate with a purposefully misspelled word. Then they’d bring it back to another worker in the store, complaining about the error and demanding their money back. The other employee, never suspecting that an ice-cream-for-life card had been used, handed over the cash each and every time.

Okay, not the greatest association for you product. But Carvel was introduced into the plot as a treat for the staff. That’s at worst a left-handed compliment.

And the product always appeared attractive—clean pink boxes, a signature of the chain, and cakes that could’ve been food-styled for a photo shoot. The show might’ve stirred some yearnings for those of us who grew up with Carvel.

Then again, when the scam is finally discovered, the worker at fault blurts in a huff that she’s resuming her position as a cut-rate streetwalker.

But what’s a brand to do? It’s free publicity, albeit with a few associations you probably wouldn’t choose for your name. Do you object? Take steps to counter any potential negatives that might or might not be remembered a day later? Or do you do nothing?

Kudos to Focus Brands, Carvel’s franchisor, for turning the situation decidedly in the brand’s favor. It sent a Carvel cake to the “30 Rock” staff as a thank you, with a heartfelt and absolutely perfect inscription on the frosting.

See it for yourself here at Ashley Swann’s blog.

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