Why Häagen-Dazs didn’t bring marketing ‘to a standstill’ during lockdown

Häagen-Dazs is doubling its investment in digital marketing as it looks to “capitalise on the momentum” it gained during lockdown.

When coronavirus hit many brands turned off marketing to conserve costs. But ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs was adamant it would not stop investing.

“We didn’t go to a standstill. By that I mean we took action, we maintained our investment pressure and insured we had brand salience going in a meaningful and purposeful way,” says the head of marketing culture and brand experience in Europe & Australasia at Häagen-Daz’s owner General Mills, Arjoon Bose.

While it did cut back on spend in traditional media, digital investment increased. One example is its collaboration with Secret Cinema for its ‘Secret Sofa’ initiative – weekly online films screenings.

Secret Cinema sent our newsletters revealing the film of the week and how to access it. These also included a pre-screening narrative, allowing the audience to dress up as key characters, learn dances, make props and create playlists.

Newsletter recipients also got a weekly code allowing them to order Häagen-Daz’s flavour of the week via a tie-up with Amazon Prime Now. They were then encouraged to share their images using the hashtag #HaagIndoors, with the best winning a week’s supply of ice cream.

The campaign became one of the brand’s most effective digital activations in years, boosting engagement with its key audience. Bose credits this with its mix of physical and digital with “product at the heart”. Allowing the audience to be creative was also key, he says.

Bose adds: “[This was] where physical and digital meet, and allows us to put the product at the heart.”

He plans to double digital investment for the brand going forward to “capitalise on this momentum”. Using influencers, even those with smaller audiences, will also be important, although he believes there needs to be a “tried strategy” in order to create the “winning recipe”.

He explains: “There is a clear role for macro- and micro-influencers. We need to ask [when using smaller influencers] how are we evangelising our real fans and really building hyper-engaged hyper-localised communities?”

To do this, General Mills has technology that identifies the top 1% of its brands’ “super fans”. It then engages with them to generate insights, content and even to use social and digital commerce.

“It’s about championing and democratising influence,” Bose adds.

Lockdown learnings

During lockdown Haagen Daz’s ice cream sales in the UK rose, helped by people stocking up their freezers and warm weather. And owner General Mills overall grew during the pandemic as demand for food at home increased.

But while the company no doubt benefitted from consumer trends, Bose says this success “didn’t happen by accident”. He is clear that marketers need to apply some of what they learned during the pandemic even as life slowly returns to normal.

He explains: “What it showed us is we were incredibly agile and reactive beyond what we’ve ever been so we don’t want to go back. It’s about leaning into this culture of growth and experimentation and learning.”

Across brands, Bose is ensuring that marketers retain the decisiveness that allowed for more reactive marketing during coronavirus. Plus, he says that ensuring the brand didn’t go silent during Covid-19 has helped it keep customers and win new ones.

Bose concludes: “When you do well in a crisis, more often than not only do you win share and brand love, but you will continue winning.”