Ice Cream More Important Than Politics

Nov 5, 2008 11:22 AM. All work by , , ,

BOSTON—While election results trickled out and America tuned in, window shoppers from Gloucester Street to Clarendon Street found something else to do than watch the election. At the Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop on Newbury Street, voters and non-voters settled in for free ice cream.

In the line that wrapped along the sidewalk and on the steps at nearby boutiques, there were few serious words said about politics. The most common utterance of Barack Obama or John McCain was frequently followed up by a John Stuart, Stephen Colbert or Saturday Night Live reference.

Four students from Berklee were of the few outside Ben & Jerry’s who engaged in conversation about the debate. The group, two from New Hampshire and two from New York, were split about their presidential candidates (Obama, McCain and Barr) and had volumes to say about each one. They didn't come to mingle with other voters, they came for the free ice cream and later went on in search of free coffee (at Starbucks).

“I just want [the election] to be over already,” said Berklee sophomore Stephanie Barker. “How long have we been doing this and still something goes wrong?”

Exhausted, aggravated and apathetic, the four friends could not help but reflect on the flaws of the election process and the hype the media has given it, they said. Free ice cream and coffee were more outlets for them to unwind rather than a way to celebrate and be praised for voting — the way Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks intended.

"I guarantee you that many of these people did not vote," said Greg Arney, also a sophomore at Berklee. Like Arney, it seemed that the voting process was on the mind of few people at the ice cream shop. Popular line-waiting-conversation topics cycled between what flavor of ice cream was best, the length of the line and the weather.

Some people had no idea that the store was giving free ice cream to just anyone. In fact, one girl went in with the intention of buying ice cream and made a surprised comment when she noticed that people weren't paying.

“If I were a parent, I’d bring my kids to Free Ice Cream day too,” said another girl in line as a mother and child walked out of the ice cream shop.

The actual name of the promotion was, “Free Ice Cream for Voters,” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. according to a poster hanging behind the dessert bar. A smaller 8.5”x11” display located on the counter said that even non-voters could get coffee with “no complainin’” from the Ben & Jerry’s staff. That add-on is strikingly reminiscent of the fate of Starbucks’ “It’s Bigger Than Coffee” promotion, which was forced to extend its offer of free coffee to non-voters to avoid violating laws that prohibit giving rewards in exchange for voting.

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