TAMPA — Gary Wishnatzki wants to build brand recognition and a reputation for quality.
He recently set up a Facebook fan page for his company, and last week he launched a viral Internet marketing campaign to get out his new brand.
"I don't know of any (farmer) doing what Wishnatzki is doing," said Sue Harrell, marketing director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. "He's very creative."
On Tuesday, Wishnatzki unveiled the new Wish Farms brand by giving away 2,000 pounds of strawberries at the University of South Florida and posting four comical YouTube videos online that feature the Wish Farms pixies.
For three hours, actors dressed as pixies worked the crowd while farm employees handed out clamshells of berries with information on how to watch the videos.
Pixie Pete — also known as Nick Wishnatzki, Gary's 27-year-old son — chatted with students in line while wearing fairy wings, red Dockers and glittery suspenders.
When students asked about his attire, he seized the opening to explain his father's new brand and the YouTube videos.
"You've just got to have a lot of confidence and roll with it," he said, smiling. He's a New York City-based actor and the star of Wish Farms' videos.
For each view the online videos receive through Tuesday, Gary Wishnatzki will give $1 to USF's First Generation Matching Grant fund. Within 24 hours, the first video had been viewed about 1,600 times, said Wishnatzki, who will cap donations at $10,000.
Though the line for berries sometimes grew 50 people deep, the students were ecstatic. They love free food, especially when it's not the same old pizza and energy drinks that vendors and club leaders usually hand out.
"That's how we survive," Roanna Borja said, laughing.
However, Borja, 21, and her friend Emilee Cabatana, 19 — like several other students in line — said they don't pay attention to the brands of strawberries they buy in the store.
"I just buy them if they're pretty — if they're red and fresh-looking," Cabatana said.
That's exactly what Wishnatzki wants to change. He hopes that if people try his berries and like them, they'll remember the shortened "Wish Farms" name and look for them in stores.
The pixie logo and new name are catchy, he said. USF biology student Karl Pericot agreed.
"I'm going to remember the fairies, so I know I'm going to remember the company," said Pericot, 21.
Wishnatzki started working on the new brand a year and a half ago. He and Tampa communications firm ChappellRoberts researched the former Wishnatzki Farms brand.
The verdict: No one could spell it, and few remembered it.
"We wanted to create a brand identity that people would recognize and hopefully ask for," he said.
In step the pixies, the stars of the YouTube videos. The new logo features a pixie named Misty, who, according to the Wish Farms story, goes around with a star-tipped wand sweetening all the berries.
"It really made a connection with consumers," said Karen Woodworth, an account executive at ChappellRoberts. "They loved it."
Last year, Wishnatzki caught the attention of other growers and the media when his employees started putting "how's my picking?" stickers on strawberry clamshells, each one accompanied by a code that led back to the picker.
Consumers could go online and give the farmer feedback. That season, he received more than 2,000 responses.
"What we found is that it actually saves us money because it made our workers accountable," he said.
There were fewer costly rejections, he said.
He said the rebranding has been expensive, but it's an investment. His grandfather started the company in 1922, and Wishnatzki may pass it on to his daughter.
Marcus Caswell, who works on marketing for Wish Farms, said the company plans to continue promoting its brand, whether it's through Twitter, Facebook or other high-tech opportunities.
"It's kind of revolutionary to see an agriculture company think out of the box like this," Caswell said, and he credited his boss.
"He's a leader. He's an innovator."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.