Marketing Brand Strategy Creative Works

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Ice Cream: the co-branding flavor of the month


By Kenneth Hein | US Editor

July 13, 2021 | 5 min read

Consumers are distracted by the mere fact they are no longer captives of their own homes. Brands are reacting with a bevy of attention-seeking tactics. One of the biggest of these is the limited-edition line extension. Marketing experts weigh in on the true brand value of stunt offerings like Goldfish Frank’s RedHot crackers, Peeps-flavored Pepsi and, now, Kraft Mac & Cheese ice cream.

Mac and cheese ice cream

Kraft has some deliciously cheesy co-branding

Beginning tomorrow, consumers can dig into a nice cold scoop of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ice cream. The limited-time-only product was created in partnership with the trendy Van Leeuwen Ice Cream brand – which is known among New Yorkers for both its tasty treats and its long lines.

This cheesy pasta-flavored ice cream joins a flurry of April Fool’s Day-worthy co-branding efforts a la Velveeta’s luxury skincare products. We’ve already seen unlikely partnerships come to pass that include Peeps-flavored Pepsi, Chipotle-inspired Elf cosmetics, Goldfish Frank’s RedHot crackers and Enviro-logs that smell like KFC’s chicken recipe.

Because these unexpected partnerships are now so common, “the bar is getting higher and higher for shock-value limited-edition items. I just finished a social media book where I had written about French’s mustard limited-edition ice cream pop-up. I thought I’d seen it all,” says Karen Freberg, professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville. “They’re not just competing with other consumer packaged goods companies, but also fitness brands and Netflix... everybody is vying for attention.”

Kraft’s offering, which is available online and at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream locations in Houston, Los Angeles and New York, was created in honor of National Macaroni & Cheese Day. Latching on to such lesser-known holidays as well as rolling out stunt products has been a symptom of the pandemic, says PSFK founder Piers Fawkes. “These are PR or ad agencies looking for cheap wins. You may not be able to do a guerilla stunt in Times Square, but you might get a blogger to write about it or an influencer to share a picture on Instagram.”

It’s also an opportunity for older brands to take “a shortcut to cool by partnering with brands with prestige,” says Fawkes. Emily Violett, senior associate brand manager for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, said in a statement: “As big fans of Van Leeuwen, we knew they’d be the perfect partner to create this ice cream with us. Not only does it taste delicious, but it’s also made with high-quality ingredients and contains no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes, just like our Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.”

The product will be available while supplies last and those who were able to secure a scoop are encouraged to share on social media. While the short-term benefits are clear, the long-term aspects are less so, says Robert Passikoff, president of the New York-based brand consultancy Brand Keys. “It’s like the old McRib strategy where once a year you do something weird. It doesn’t pay off in the long-term because just trying to get attention isn’t enough to reinforce brand values and to better meet the expectations of consumers.”

Others say these stunts are the table stakes for competing in the new era of the time-starved. “I vividly remember the cherry red Kool-Aid man and Mr, Owl with his Tootsie Pops,” says Kimberly Nehls, lecturer, marketing and international business, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Today, I notice that folks including myself are answering emails, checking a bank balance, doing homework, scrolling social media, playing games on their phone, chatting with friends or family members, or any other number of activities. Mental activity is not devoted to marketing stimulus anymore.

“Therefore, companies have to be as creative as possible to catch the attention of the consumer when they are competing with dozens of other tasks. A limited-time line extension might be just the ticket to cut through the noise.”

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