Magnum to Host Chilly Reception

What do you do when you’re a premium European ice cream brand trying to break into an American market that’s already frozen shut with $6-a-pint brands like Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s? Well, you could always get a European tastemaker to put his imprimatur on it. Or maybe you could make some films for Facebook. Or, you could consider introducing the stuff at a big event in New York City. Or you could even sign a famous American actress to endorse the stuff.

Or you could just do all of it.

This ambitious marketing plan belongs to Magnum, the über-premium ice cream brand owned by Dutch-English conglomerate Unilever. The company has hired fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld to direct and produce a series of three films starring raven-haired starlet Rachel Bilson to promote the stuff. The shorts will debut in two weeks at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. (No tix? Fear not: The flicks will head over to Facebook after April 21.)

It’s certainly an interesting idea but… what does a 78-year-old clothing designer with a white ponytail, an actress who played Summer on The O.C. and a film festival that screens stuff like Swedish vampire flicks have to do with ice cream on a stick?

Essentially, Magnum is playing the indulgence card. If a shopper’s willing to treat herself by plunking down eine menge geld for Lagerfeld threads, then she’s certainly refined enough to drop a mere $3.99 for Belgian dark cacao in Magnum’s signature foil wrapper. “The Magnum consumer is a pleasure seeker,” said a spokesperson. “So we wanted to make sure that our campaign aligned with that mind-set. Seeing as Magnum is a super premium brand, it needed a super premium U.S. launch—hence the celebrity, fashion and film series tie-ins.”

Fair enough. Still, cracking the U.S. market is never simple, and Magnum may have a few hurdles ahead. First, there’s the rather unfortunate issue of name overlap. Londoners might automatically associate Magnum with ice cream, but here in the U.S., Magnum is a brand of extra large condom made by Trojan. (This kind of brand signal crossing is actually quite common. There’s a Euro-chocolate brand called Porcelana, which in America is a skin cream that promises to rid women of “age spots.”)

What’s more, because ice cream seldom falls into the “necessity” category on the shopping list, the lugubrious American economy might not be Magnum’s best friend. Frozen dessert consumption has been on the decline of late (albeit only by 1 percent), according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Still, a series of films by Karl Lagerfeld is bound to draw the curious. In the one titled Art Class, Bilson plays an art student who is “obsessed by her strong desire for a Magnum ice cream bar,” according to a company statement, “and is then inspired to create a beautiful work of art as she satisfies her craving.”  Bilson probably won’t take home an Oscar for this one, but it may be enough to get people to stop by the freezer case.