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Agency Culture FMCG Marketing

Champagne revolver: my forgotten role in creating the Magnum ice lolly


By John Appleton, Business Development Consultant

May 13, 2024 | 4 min read

Last week Magnum’s global brand vice-president told us how to grow a premium ice cream brand. In response, adman John Appleton takes us back to 1989, where he had a pivotal role in its high-caliber launch, inspired by Clint Eastwood and champagne.

Jon wielding a mini Magnum

At the end of the 80s, I worked in advertising in London as a lowly account executive with KMP, handling Mazda and Carlsberg. Mazda was about to launch the best and probably best-selling sports car in the world, the MX5. I nearly worked on that account. Then an agency with a higher creative profile scooped it right out from under us.

Then there was Carlsberg. That was fun, and not only because part of my job was to pay Orson Welles in cash in the taxi after the recording as he left for his five-star hotel. But as a result of losing Mazda, I was made redundant.

My head-hunter managed to get me an interview at Lintas which was effectively an in-house agency for Birds Eye and other Unilever brands at the time. Here, I managed accounts that seemed mundane Canon Office Equipment and Birds Eye Walls until one ice-cream brief turned everything upside down.

The brief was simple yet ambitious: to transform the humble ice lolly into a luxurious “count line on a stick,” akin to other well-loved chocolate bars on the market. This initiative followed the success of the Feast, a two-layered chocolate lolly mirroring a Mars Bar. But what we were aiming for was something grander–a super-premium product targeted at adults, something that commanded attention and justified a higher price tag.

A “Big Eat” was wanted, something that felt substantial in the hand and when you were eating/licking/biting it. In a stroke of inspiration, the name Magnum came to me in mere seconds.

It evoked the grandeur of a magnum of champagne, a symbol of opulence and celebration. Yet, it also carried the rugged, masculine connotations of the heavy handgun made famous by Clint Eastwood–a perfect metaphor for an ice-cream that promised to deliver a substantial, satisfying experience. A credible man’s lolly.


Despite my contribution to birthing a name that would grow to define a billion-dollar brand, my journey with the agency was brief. Not long after the launch, due to a reshuffling of accounts, I found myself without a job yet again. The Magnum continued to thrive, growing into a beloved global icon, part of a portfolio that would one day prompt Unilever to seek buyers for its $15bn ice-cream business. A staple of an indulgent summer with that unforgettable chocolate crunch.

Looking back, it’s ironic that after naming an ice-cream after a gun, I was the one who got fired. This ‘punk’ wasn’t feelin’ lucky at the time. Now in 2024, I doubt anyone in the Walls account or client-side marketing team knows any of this or has even heard of me. That’s how these things go sometimes.

I never made sixpence from this creation, but I have immense satisfaction in knowing I had a hand in creating a hugely valuable brand that has brought summer fun to millions over the years.

Agency Culture FMCG Marketing

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