Häagen-Dazs aims to scoop a larger share

Sex sells. But, having set the pace, Häagen-Dazs is now inviting shops to drop sex and create a market-leading strategy.

Häagen-Dazs had a storming 1996. While the UK ice-cream market melted by three per cent, Häagen-Dazs’ value share increased by nearly 30 per cent to 28.1m, and owners Grand Metropolitan creamed off a healthy profit.

Why the bust-up then with Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the agency that launched the product in the UK six years ago and which is widely credited with single-handedly creating the super-premium ice cream sector (MW February 14)?

Last week it emerged that Pillsbury is inviting agencies to pitch for the $15m to $20m (9.4m to 12.5m) account.

Whispers in the industry suggest BBH fell out with its client over differences of opinion on future creative strategy. It is certainly possible, especially as the client has changed – Martin Jamieson was appointed Pillsbury managing director in September and at the start of the year he took responsibility for marketing Häagen-Dazs across Europe.

However, the main irritant in the dispute is believed to be the company’s plan to move away from its “sex sells” philosophy. “The key thing was that it wanted a pan-European campaign which took the sex out of it,” says a source. “In Italy and Spain premium ice cream is not seen as a sexy commodity.”

Although the campaign has been hugely successful in the UK, where ice-cream’s traditional domain was children’s parties, Europeans are used to super-premium ice-cream being an adult treat.

In the UK, BBH took the credit for inventing the “Dedicated to pleasure” strapline – which made the brand sexy – and introducing marketing ploys previously unknown to the ice-cream sector. These included launching a record, a “scratch and sniff campaign” and taxi advertising. They were so successful that pizza delivery chains added the brand to their menus.

Not surprisingly, Jamieson is quick to deny that the review is the result of a spat. He says he has been pleased with BBH’s work. “Yes we have got great market share, but we could do better.”

He says he was happy with the “Heat” campaign using infra-red imagery that was launched in summer 1995, and reused last year, even though it was less well received than BBH’s print work. Critics said Häagen-Dazs had failed to give itself a strong screen brand image and carry over the sensual feel of the black and white press work.

Jamieson claims he is reviewing the account because he wants to iron out inconsistencies in the way the product is marketed across Europe, and that he wants an agency with a European reach. “It is not a foregone conclusion that it will be a British agency,” he says.

In France, Häagen-Dazs’ agency is Lagon – part of the EURO RSCG group. Meanwhile, Leo Burnett, the agency of record for Old El Paso, Green Giant and Jus-Rol – all of which, like Häagen-Dazs, are Grand Metropolitan brands, is declining to pitch for the Häagen-Dazs account. It cites a potential clash with McDonald’s (there are now 176 Häagen Dazs cafes, compared with 133 in September 1995). It is also known that the ice-cream manufacturer has approached agencies outside of the GrandMet roster – an unusual move.

It could be that Jamieson is feeling pitch-happy in his new job. Last year, he appointed Lowe Howard-Spink to handle the relaunch of Pillsbury in the UK with the 3m-backed Toaster Pocket product (MW September 20 1996).

The industry has certainly been shocked by news of a review. A source says: “We were amazed. We were expecting a big new campaign for Häagen-Dazs, especially as it was so quiet last year.”

BBH refuses to comment on the situation. The agency says it has not yet decided whether to repitch, even though it has been invited to do so.

If BBH does lose the business, it will cut especially deep, coming as it does after the loss of the $42m (26m) Bausch and Lomb business and its resignation from the 6m Cadbury account in late 1995.

Meanwhile, Jamieson refuses to be drawn on what his brief to the agencies will be. When asked if he would take the brand name into other product areas, Jamieson merely says that he rules nothing out.

But diversification is not really Pillsbury’s style. And Häagen-Dazs is streamlining rather than expanding its product range. Last year it stopped selling frozen yogurts in the UK because of lack of demand.

One source close to the ice-cream industry says: “It really should concentrate on supporting its hand-held range. The bars are miles better than Magnum and they ought to make this known.” According to IRI InfoScan, this is the fastest growing part of Häagen-Dazs’ product range. Last year, sales of its adult chocolate sticks were up 49 per cent to 1.7m by value, whereas sales of the tubs and blocks increased 33 per cent to 24.9m.

But Jamieson’s biggest challenge is to keep the product fresh. Other brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s and the Unilever-owned Ranieri, have followed it into the super-premium sector, and most supermarkets have introduced cheaper own-label ice creams. Certainly in terms of flavours, Ben & Jerry’s Vermont offerings are keeping Häagen-Dazs on its toes.

Jamieson recognises the dangers of becoming complacent: “We have to continue to be trend-setters. We have been through the launch. Now we need to move on to the next stage.” The identity of that agency partner will say a lot about the future direction of the business.

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