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Whipped Woodlouse? Why The Economist is giving away insect ice-cream

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A few years ago, I arrived at Stockport station in Cheshire. It was early morning and I was feeling distinctly peckish. Fortunately, as I reached the foot of the stairs from the platform, a well-known retailer of baking goods was holding a promotion, and giving away lemon muffins. I took two, and my breakfast needs were rapidly fulfilled. That was a very good morning.

Of course, giving away goods, particularly foodstuffs, is a tried and tested marketing method. Usually, the thinking goes something like this: the punter enjoys a tasty treat, creating goodwill towards a brand, and hopefully, persuading the consumer to buy the item in future. Very analogue, very straightforward, and very effective.

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"Before you get too excited, I should point out the flavours available."

It's an approach The Economist magazine is taking in London this summer. But they're not handing out magazines, or lemon muffins, they're offering free ice-creams. Brilliant, eh? The thermometer may not top thirty degrees every day, but everyone loves a free lolly, don't they? Well, before you get too excited, I should point out the flavours available: Choc Hopper, Scurry Burry, Strawberries and Swirl, and Nutritious Neapolitan. Still don't see the problem? Well, you should know all these frozen goodies contain insects. Or, perhaps more alarmingly, bits of insects.

Argh! Why would they do that? Luring in decent people with the promise of gratis ices, then scooping out something full of creepy crawlies?

"It all spins off a feature The Economist ran in 2014."

As you'd expect from The Economist, there's method in those mandibles. Famous for their witty, thought-provoking campaigns (remember those award-winning, typographical posters?), the magazine is promoting a fascinating point-of-view. Working with the agency 'Sense', this work invites people to contemplate how much kinder to the planet we'd be if we consumed more bugs and fewer cows, sheep and pigs. It all spins off a feature The Economist ran in 2014, which explained the economic and ecological benefits of protein-filled insects as a viable food source for an ever-expanding global population. And invites us to take out a subscription as we munch through a whipped woodlouse.

Talking to marketingmagazine.co.uk, Marina Haydn - who leads retail marketing for The Economist - said, "We think this particular story about insects is the kind of mind-stretching material that our globally curious target audience will find particularly interesting, and hopefully, tasty as well."

Well, if you're fortunate enough to encounter the insect ice-cream trikes on the streets of the capital, from 3 July to 17 July, and potentially running into August, you can judge the 'tasty' bit for yourself. Who knows, you may find they've expanded their range to include 'Roach & Raisin', 'Wasp Wafer' or 'Midge Choc Chip'. In the meantime, I think we can all agree, this is another unusual and smart feather in The Economist's creative cap. Their advertising still takes some licking.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter and blogger.

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