Over the last few weeks, U.S. cities have been running a live social experiment on the subject of honesty. Honest Tea (and for this social experiment the word play of “Honesty”) has set up unmanned “tea booths” across cities including Boston, Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles where consumers can pick up a bottle of Honest Tea by donating $1 into a plastic box. There is supposedly a camera watching the unmanned tea booth, but no one would be there to stop the consumer from stealing a bottle if they decided to not pay (or slip in an IOU note, monopoly money, or put in $1 and take 3 bottles, etc). So far the results (posted on the microsite www.TheNationalHonestyIndex.com) indicate that Boston citizens (99%) are the most honest while New York citizens (87%) are least honest. The site also provide a camera link for each city the experiment is run, so you can watch to see if people are putting in a dollar when they grab a bottle.
The marketing campaign appears to be successful so far, with strong social integration and media impressions. Social aspects include the ability to tune in on-line to the city of your choice, choosing the foundation that all the donations will go to, and the usual twitter/facebook/google+/e-mail/etc.
The campaign is sure to generate a lot of goodwill for Honest Tea, but will it bring in sales for the beverage, especially after the campaign and tea season (summer) ends? So far, the translation to their bottom line is positive – almost all cities are seeing sales growth, ranging from strong double digit sales growth to modest single digits in others. Depending on how long the campaign is run for, I might be able to watch this live in Boston or San Francisco when I make a visit later in the month.
Whether Honest Tea will carve out a stronghold in the category against larger manufacturers like Lipton, Nestea, or AriZona is a question for another day. Though for a smaller player in the category, this is something that will certainly catch attention, generate buzz, and show that you understand how to reach your target market.