July is National Ice Cream Month, a perfect reason to celebrate this flavorful, icy treat in my monthly Design Perspective. The joys of ice cream transcend geography and generations: From a creamy vanilla topping, a slice of apple pie, to rocky road dripping down a cone and over the fingers, enjoying ice cream is a universal experience. Who hasn’t dropped whatever they were doing and raced out the door when they heard the jingling bells on the ice cream truck as it made its way up the street?
In recent years ice cream’s appeal as a meal-ending dessert has broadened to that of an anytime indulgence. The resulting explosion in the number of local, regional, national and global ice cream brands is nothing short of remarkable. In some ways, the market emulates the microbrewery beer industry, with its proliferation of local players. I reside in Cincinnati and am fortunate to live within walking distance of an ice cream parlor that features one of the local brands. This brand has a consumer following whose loyalty borders on fanaticism; to suggest that any other brand of ice cream is superior is regarded as sacrilegious. This devotion is akin to how passionate and territorial consumers are about their local beers. It stirs something deep within us; a desire that is difficult to describe but easy to ignite. It also helps to propagate a never-ending debate: Which ice cream brand is the creamiest? Is hand-packed superior to pump-packed? Do add-ins enhance or detract from the primary flavor? Does ice cream taste better in a cone or cup? I guess we will have to keep sampling to know for certain!
The design language of the ice cream market generally adheres to themes of location, ingredient, heritage, or indulgent stories. Local brands place great pride in their roots, often featuring area landmarks or a color palette specific to their town or city of origin. Sometimes they use a family name as the brand name; this helps build the story behind the brand. Regional brands more often than not began as local brands but their packaging has evolved over the years to make the brand look bigger and more commercial. Unfortunately, this design approach can have a downside: Consumers invariably compare the new version to the original and may decide, “It don’t taste like it used to.” National brands employ power branding and all of the graphic tricks of the design trade; all-American nostalgia reigns supreme within this category. Finally, global players strive to communicate consistency and brand value.
While the usual ice cream category clichés abound there are some innovative players who excel in their branding and packaging. For me, Haagen Dazs is a key global player, not only because its ice cream consistently uses high-quality ingredients but because it expertly manages its key brand equities. I have cited this brand on many occasions as a best-in-class example and not just in the ice cream category. As any great brand should, Haagen Dazs builds an exceptional consumer experience around its brand, from the instantly recognizable name itself all the way to the worldwide perception of its premium status. Haagan Dazs’ branding elements are as pure as its product ingredients: Keep things simple, clean and consistent, and play to the category language. How does Haagan Dazs do this? The company consistently uses four of its key brand assets – logo, color, pattern and ingredient story – across all consumer touchpoints. Any additional elements either speak to the category, the event, the category language or the delivery mechanism. It’s a sweet recipe for brand success that other ice cream brands would love to replicate.
The Haagen Dazs Principle
At Interbrand we frequently use an approach we call the Haagen Dazs Principle. It is based on the simple idea of leveraging four of a brand’s key assets – in this case, logo, color, pattern and ingredient story – and delivering them consistently across all touchpoints, no matter the media. Once these four assets have been identified, additional contextual messaging can be added without detracting from the ability to identify the brand and its core. This enables a brand to maintain consistency, differentiate itself from competition and continually accrue brand equity. Interbrand’s proprietary process focuses on identifying these media-agnostic equity elements and helping our clients and their agency partners activate them in the marketplace.