I was never a huge proponent of salad to begin with. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate (Christmas Carol? Anyone?). Unless a bowl of mesclun was hammering it home with grilled chicken, goat cheese and a gross misuse of the worldwide supply of Balsamic Vinaigrette, I’ve genuinely never been interested in the stuff. It’s no small wonder, then, that my relationship with New York City’s modest Just Salad restaurant chain has blossomed into one that I’ve all but put a ring on. And it’s all thanks to the Black Bowl.
I first heard about Just Salad’s black bowl from a co-worker who was tweeting incessantly about his desire to procure one. It seemed to be the stuff of legend, and it was one I couldn’t ignore as a natural competitor. So, I took to the Internet, exploring both Just Salad’s social channels and its digital stronghold, http://JustSalad.com, in the search for answers. And I found this:
I’ve always been a fan of loyalty programs. They’re a great, affordable way to ensure your customers come back, and do it often. While Just Salad traditionally offers re-usable bowls for purchase in bright, neon colors that afford you extra “essential” toppings for being earth friendly, the Black Bowl took it to the next level. From line skipping privileges to free catering and proteins, it seemed that the carrier of a Black Bowl was to be revered as a golden God of salad. Forget my fear of vegetables, or my distrust of competing textures in food. I had to have one.
So, how to get one? Well, lucky for me, Just Salad’s #BlackBowl campaign came in the form of an all-out assault on social media. From Twitter and Facebook to FourSquare, each channel had their own respective contest or promotion that allowed customers and fans to earn a title that only 100 humans in the world would hold – VIP Black Bowl Card Holder. The first I came upon was a charity auction pushed out via Facebook:
The idea was simple – bid on a black bowl on eBay with all proceeds going to the Food Bank For New York City. Knowing Facebook users are especially interested in social good, I expected the bowl to reach a respectable bidding price. After several days, it had hit nearly $500… out of the realm of possibility for a humble young writer, but an impressive feat. With one bowl down, I started to get serious. Next, came FourSquare. In the weeks leading up to June 2012, FourSquare fiends turned Just Salad locations into a battleground:
The contest was very straightforward – be the mayor of a Just Salad location when the contest ends, and you’ll get a black bowl; another great, relevant and successful campaign, and another I did not win (I could not possibly visit Just Salad enough to take this one. My “Halal Guys” cravings come too quickly and frequently). Next, a haiku contest on Twitter brought the massive microblogging platform into the picture:
Tapping into Twitter’s well connected network of New York-based writers and creatives, Just Salad leveraged poetry’s shortest form, the haiku, on a platform that values (and in fact forces) brevity. Submissions poured in, and of the five winners who were chosen (all of whom were not me), many went to great lengths to win theirs. Some even got visual:
It was during their digital push, however, when I finally found some fortune. In an effort to learn more about its customer base, Just Salad allows customers to create a detailed profile on their website. From topping preferences and favorite music to a persuasive prompt on why you deserve a black bowl, the profiles allow for a ton of creativity, giving Just Salad another great opportunity to give out bowls. They select one profile every two weeks to feature, and give a black bowl to the person who created it. And, ladies and gentlemen… my day finally arrived:
My Just Salad profile (go check it out, seriously… it’s really good) was selected and featured on their blog. Several days later, I picked up by black bowl at Just Salad’s 6th avenue location, and my life has been happier and healthier ever since. So, what’s the point of all of this? Why go through so much effort to give these things out? Well, let me tell you. Before I had won the black bowl, I would maybe go to Just Salad once every two or three month… essentially, whenever I needed to convince myself I was living a healthy lifestyle. I love the company, don’t get me wrong; I just didn’t make it there often. Since my big win, however, I make the trip at least once per week.
There’s just something special about the feeling I get when I flash my VIP card (pictured below) and skip the line, knowing a heaping serving of free grilled chicken is waiting for me. I have also become something of a brand evangelist, calling out my title in my Twitter profile and chatting often with other black bowl winners using the hashtag #blackbowl. In short, I am now obsessed with both Just Salad and the product itself (a shocking revelation, I promise). For the price of a few nice graphics, a brand channel team and 100 plastic bowls, Just Salad has turned dozens of people into lifetime advocates who can’t wait to share their celebrity status. Sounds like a good deal to me.
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