Over the July 4 weekend last summer, at cookouts up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, guests arrived with packages of Al Fresco chicken sausage for their hosts to throw on the grill. At a family gathering in Kingsley, Mich. At a small barbecue in Sag Harbor, N.Y. At a 60-guest picnic in Philadelphia.
We know that this happened, and we even know how various party guests reacted to their first exposure to Al Fresco, because the Great Sausage Fanout of 2004 did not happen by chance. The sausage-bearers were not official representatives of Al Fresco, showing up in uniforms to hand out samples. They were invited guests, friends or relatives of whoever organized the get-togethers, but they were also — unknown to most all the other attendees — ”agents,” and they filed reports. ”People could not believe they weren’t pork!” one agent related. ”I told everyone that they were low in fat and so much better than pork sausages.” Another wrote, ”I handed out discount coupons to several people and made sure they knew which grocery stores carried them.” Another noted that ”my dad will most likely buy the garlic” flavor, before closing, ”I’ll keep you posted.”
These reports went back to the company that Al Fresco’s owner, Kayem Foods, had hired to execute a ”word of mouth” marketing campaign. And while the Fourth of July weekend was busy, it was only a couple of days in an effort that went on for three months and involved not just a handful of agents but 2,000 of them. The agents were sent coupons for free sausage and a set of instructions for the best ways to talk the stuff up, but they did not confine themselves to those ideas, or to obvious events like barbecues.
Note to the people who meet me regularly: if you ever do something like this on an event I’m at, I’ll never speak to you again.