The Brand Historian’s Timeline: 1960 1983 1991
In the early 1980s, the Brand Historian’s mentor was David Bernstein, one of the most characterful and creative of British admen. Part JCR punster and wit, part song-and-dance man, David was a generous Obi Wan who willingly shared his bag of rhetorical tricks with a wannabe marketing Jedi like me. Above all he was a master of the inversion. In order to stimulate the business, he told me one day, you have to make the business stimulating. That was a typical piece of wordplay from the man who also gave us The Esso sign means happy motoring.
He also believed that the problem should determine its solution, because the solution was always in the problem, if you looked hard enough. At The Creative Business, where I worked for David in the 1980s, he was particularly keen on the winning projects in NPD, or new product development as innovation was then called. When a client became excited about a particular opportunity, he might deploy another favourite inversion. “The question is not,” he said, “is there a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap?” And this classic Bernstein maxim comes to mind when I reflect on how we managed to miss launching Häagen-Dazs in the UK in 1983.
Häagen-Dazs, the definitive adult ice cream indulgence had been launched in Brooklyn in 1960 amidst economic decay and race riots. Its creator Reuben Mattus was another great creative improviser who apparently liked nothing better than coming up with distinctive brand names by spouting nonsense word combinations until something interesting turned up. The family ice cream business then in its third generation, had been badly affected by low priced competitors who were driving value out of the market. Reuben decided to counterattack by going upmarket and creating a super-premium ice cream that would contain little air, lots of butterfat and would come in three simple classic flavours: vanilla, chocolate and coffee. Reuben also decided that a Scandinavian sounding provenance would work for the product because he believed the Danes had a great reputation for dairy products. The first tubs featured a map of Denmark. Of course, the fact that there is no ä or z in Danish is now just all part of the marketing myth. Häagen-Dazs certainly cut through to the consumer. With Ruben’s wife Rose performing a brilliant role in trade marketing and merchandising, Reuben’s ice creams soon developed a massive reputation. By 1976, the business had opened its first retail store and began to look overseas for international partners.
Meanwhile in 1983 at The Creative Business in London, a large UK dairy asked us to look at the market potential for a super-premium ice cream. It was called Häagen-Dazs. The usual desk research wheelbarrow was followed by original qualitative research. In focus group discussions, we asked respondents (the desk research indicated families with children were the most important consumers of ice cream in the UK) to try some pots and we told them the Häagen-Dazs story. Consumers absolutely loved the product, and they liked the New York Reuben Mattus story, but when we told them the super-premium price that we were proposing to charge, there was a stunned silence followed by incredulous chuckles. “You’ve just got to be kidding,” the consumers told us and the client. So, we concluded that there may have been a gap in the market for a new luxury ice cream but not much of a market in the gap, and the project was put into a permanent cold storage.
Nearly a decade later, another attempt was made to bring Häagen-Dazs to the UK market. But this time, whilst still aiming to create a new gold standard in ice cream, the brand strategy would be very different. Instead of families with children as the main target (who mainly used ice cream as a ubiquitous dessert topping,) the brand would target young adults, under 34 without kids and would build on the dense, creamy indulgent nature of the product to create a brand that stood for sensual pleasure and would charge a truly gold standard price.
In one of the many great BBH campaigns, its work for Häagen-Dazs featured young aspirational couples in moments of intense intimacy and pleasure. As the ad effectiveness case history commented, “we decided to juxtapose what Häagen-Dazs put in the pot with what the consumers got out of it.” And against the backdrop in 1991 of recession and unemployment, which were similar conditions to when Häagen-Dazs was launched in Brooklyn in 1961, the super-expensive Häagen-Dazs became the essential morale boosting personal pleasure to be consumed by consenting adults in all sorts of places and not just after fishfingers and chips. Soon word of mouth was talking about Shäagen-Dazs, the brand completely re-framing and reprice-pointing the take home ice cream market
When we concluded after our test market in 1983 that there was not a market in the gap, we were not completely wrong. But of course, we had failed to define the right problem and had measured the wrong market. There was a huge new market for sensual indulgence and our serious case of marketing myopia meant that we failed to spot the great, big sexy gap for Häagen-Dazs.
The solution, of course, David, was always in that thick, dense and creamy problem.
Hot Licks: A Super Premium playlist
1960 Elvis Presley It’s Now or Never
1983 Billy Joel Uptown Girl
1991 Colour Me Badd I Wanna Sex You Up