Why Häagen-Dazs Thinks Grassroots Marketing Is a Sweet Strategy

Ice cream can sweeten a sour economy—such was the thinking behind Häagen-Dazs’ launch of a new five-ingredient flavor line, simply dubbed Five. The line was created for individuals who prefer ice cream with natural ingredients, said brand manager Ching-Yee Hu. Unlike past campaigns, Häagen-Dazs is promoting Five via grass roots, particularly a SheSpeaks word-of-mouth sampling party. Hu recently chatted with Brandweek about these efforts, which are generating buzz for the launch. Some excerpts are below:

Brandweek: Häagen-Dazs has held product-sampling parties in the past. So why turn to SheSpeaks for the launch of the new Five line?
Ching-Yee Hu: The insight is Häagen-Dazs has been an all-natural brand since we started making ice cream in 1959. In the last few years, there is a growing interest in buying food that has as few, simple and recognized ingredients as possible.

We were really excited and intrigued by that learning. We have always believed that “less is more” as our ice cream crafting philosophy . . . As we were looking at the marketing strategy, [we thought] very much of this line as a no gimmicks, very real, very genuine, straightforward product and we wanted to present it to the world in a way that would say what it was all about: No gimmicks, no bull, just truth, the real pure stuff.

[My colleague, Diane McIntyre], helped me find SheSpeaks. We see it as a wonderful way to get the product to the consumer so they can taste the real thing. What’s more, we’re able to collect the feedback we can hear from them, on what they think of the ice cream . . . and if they like it, they can in turn tell their friends . . . There is so much more credibility in a message that consumers get from a peer than from a typical, polished advertising message.

BW: Aside from sampling, how else did you get the word out about this product?
CH: We launched the product with a virtual press conference in March with a group of bloggers. It was like a Web conference where I introduce the product to them and we had someone who develops recipes for us talk about how to use the ice cream and it allows [consumers] to ask questions directly and a lot of them are on Twitter fielding questions from their family and colleagues. It was a good, candid dialogue between the consumer and us.

This is really unique. Usually you have the big launch with a lot of traditional ads and what not, but this time, it’s all grassroots blogging.

[The approach] really fit with this product well. We have a lot of consumers saying it’s a fantastic product. It’s something that sells itself. Our biggest challenge is getting someone to try it. If you get them to try it, it’s not the same as if someone tells them to try it or they’re hearing it from their friends.

BW: What will future advertising for this brand look like, as you’re planning a traditional campaign once the sampling program wraps up?

CH: Ice cream is about a pure, true experience. We want the marketing campaign behind it to be pure, true and genuine. So it’s about, “How do you tell the story in a clean way?” We are trying not to use a lot of romance language or a lot of marketing gimmicks because it just doesn’t fit in with this product.

BW: What kind of consumer was the SheSpeaks program designed to reach? What’s the sweet spot for this brand?

CH: I really think of our ideal consumer in psychographic terms. It’s an attitude towards food in terms of quality over quantity. They look for high quality products and would rather have a smaller amount of something that tastes great . . . There is an interesting trend towards “natural is better” and eating pure, natural foods is a healthier and tastier way to choose food. A lot of people don’t fit that: People who believe that calorie counting and counting fat grams is the way to be healthy. Ours are consumers who believe in a much more holistic approach to eating and enjoying life. They really see natural, wholesome foods as better, pure and enjoyable and an important part of good health.