Häagen-Dazs is moving away from glossy celebrity endorsements and aspirational branding to ensure it stays relevant to an audience which places value on experiences rather than belongings, but as the brand changes its tune once more will the millennials it's trying to appeal to buy into it?
In days gone by, Häagen-Dazs marketing conjured up images of a roguish Bradley Cooper flirting with models over a tub of melting ice-cream or comprised suggestive poster campaigns celebrating the purest of pleasures. However, these are associations the brand is trying to move away from as it looks to woo a younger audience and pull itself out of what might appear to some to be an identity crisis.
The ice-cream purveyor has tossed and turned between spinning audiences its seductive charm to focusing on the quality of its ingredients over the years. Back in the 90s it was among the wave of brands making a beeline for modern women, with its ads – created by then agency BBH - playing on the theme of sexual empowerment and ice-cream as a tool of seduction.
Towards the end of the decade,creative shop Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper introduced the '100% Perfect' campaign which marketed the brand as a comforting luxury.
And over the years its taglines have similarly chopped and changed, more recently including: ‘Made Like No Other’, ‘100% Perfection’ and ‘Nothing tastes better than real’.
This month another new strapline will adorn its marketing - ‘Everyday Made Extraordinary’ - as part of a £5m step change in the General Mills-owned brand's strategy which will see it invest more in experienital marketing.
In addition to this shake-up, it has also introduced a new aesthetic for its packaging (created by Manchester-based design house Love in partnership with 13 global artists) and rolled out a host of new products including a stick bar and minicup collection.
This is all in aid of appealing to the “Instagram generation" and it seems the brand has looked to the likes of Airbnb, O2 and Pernod Ricard for guidance on how to attract this hard to reach demographic.
Like those brands, Häagen-Dazs wants its marketing to centre around the value young people place on experiences over material possessions.
The most recent round of marketing investment will include TV ads, which are poised to air in June, but for now it is kicking things off with an experiential campaign delivered by self-styled 'culinary architects' Bompas & Parr.
Arjoon Bose, marketing head for Häagen-Dazs UK and Northern Europe told The Drum the stunt was "a key milestone" in re-calibrating the brand, adding that experiential events were crucial in supporting its above-the-line campaigns.
The pop-up, 'My Extraordinary Life', was hosted last week at NoHo Studios in London and featured specially built sets designed to help consumers to take the "best ice-cream photographs ever." Guests were taken through three immersive experiences: one which used sensory technology to bring new ice-cream garnishes to life, another using a thermographic camera to capture hot and cold images and an ice-cream centre inspired by the brand's strawberry cheesecake flavour.
"Experiential events at the very outset drive talkability and buzz, and they allow us to deliver experiences direct to the consumer which is a very important as a luxury lifestyle food brand," Bose asserted. "They are fundamentally important to us to ensure we stay relevant and modern."
Such an approach makes sense given that a recent Eventbrite study revealed that 78% of young people would rather pay to take part in an experience rather than stump up for a tangible product. However, whether it will be enough to encourage millennials to pluck a tub, or a stick, of Häagen-Dazs from the freezer and put it into their shopping basket is another question altogether.
Amid the ongoing debate around sugar, one problem facing Häagen-Dazs in marketing to those aged 18 to 34 is the demographic's increasing interest in a healthier lifestyle.
Healthy eating is moving up the consumer agenda thanks to increased media exposure and according to research from PwC millennials are leading the charge. In 2016, nearly half (47%) of shoppers in this age group said they had changed their eating habits towards a healthier diet, as compared to just 23% of those aged over 55. The majority of young people (52%) also said they planned to improve their eating habits in the coming year.
One thing message that has always been consistent in Häagen-Dazs' marketing, however, is an element of indulgence - a cultivation that could help it stand out.
Bose says that the wider campaign is going to double down on the idea of the ice-cream as a "little luxury," – a move that cleverly circumvents the current trend for all things clean eating.
"Over the course of the last 12 months we've actually seen the biggest rise in penetration among the millennial market, which I think supports the fact that when it comes to this demographic and indulgence, it doesn't really make a difference to them," continued Bose.
"Much of the clean eating trend is focused on general health, when it comes to a luxury lifestyle product like ice-cream, it's largely unaffected. We want to be that little luxury that elevates the day for them."
During its most recent earnings call, General Mills conceded that a large driver of improved performance in Europe was down to the Häagen-Dazs business. In the UK alone, take-home sales of luxury ice-cream delivered £17m in growth in 2015; showing that perhaps the brand's confidence in accelerating this increase with a focus on millennials and social media isn't misplaced.
As the market enjoys success, however, Häagen-Dazs faces still faces stiff competition from rivals loveable brands like Ben & Jerry's and Magnum which are also reaching out to young audiences across digital platforms. Another thing its competitors have going for them is consistency – Ben & Jerry's in particular has always had a unique brand identity on its tub, with its marketing inspiring consumer loyalty through an emphasis on advocacy, while Magnum has always been about pushing decadence with a skew towards women.
According to the Grocer, Ben & Jerry's recent Cookie Core campaign reached 12.4m people on Facebook and Twitter in 2015, the result was an 45% year-on-year decrease to spend on traditional formats like TV and print, where in the same year Häagen-Dazs doubled traditional investment to £1.8m.
While the brand might have been slow to shift with the times, it is now embracing digital putting both Snapchat and Instagram at the heart of its ongoing partnership with Wimbledon.
At first glance the brand's latest reset could look symptomatic of just another shift in strapline and identity, but its focus on creating authentic experiences could help carve out its place in today's Instagram-driven culture, if millenialls take to this new marketing experiment.