How Häagen-Dazs is reimagining the brand for the Instagram generation

Häagen-Dazs’s admits the brand’s version of luxury had started to feel “unapproachable and unattainable”, especially with disruptive new brands entering the market, but a new marketing strategy aims to build a more personal connection with customers.

Häagen Dazs

It does not matter if you source the best ingredients or create the most luxurious taste, if millennials think your product is something their mum would buy it’s the “kiss of death” for any brand, according to Jennifer Jorgensen, vice-president and global brand director of Häagen-Dazs. Especially for a brand that’s supposed to live in the “super premium luxury space”.

“To have the younger generation saying ‘that’s for older people’, that’s a terrible place to be in the FMCG industry,” she states. “With so many of super large iconic brands suddenly dropping, it’s really a scary time as a marketer as there’s so much disruption happening. But you know what, we can’t let that happen to this brand.”

Describing the ice cream giant as the jewel in parent company General Mills’ crown, Jorgensen and her team interpreted this consumer reaction to Häagen-Dazs as a “rallying cry” for a brand revival, firmly focused on capturing the attention of a millennial audience.

Working with Manchester-based Love Creative, the agency Häagen-Dazs brought on board three years ago to manage the brand refresh, the business is in the process of rolling out its revamped packaging, communications strategy and in-store experience across its more than 800 ice cream shops worldwide.

You don’t want to be unattainable and I think that’s where we got to a little bit in the past.

Jennifer Jorgensen, Häagen-Dazs

The brief for the new visual identity was “Instagrammable”, a term the Häagen-Dazs team talk about constantly. From reimagining the logo to streamlining the interiors of its ice cream shops, all aspects of the new brand are designed to chime with an Instagram-friendly millennial aesthetic.

Recognising that with any repositioning there’s a risk, Jorgensen says the team understood there was a possibility of alienating its existing consumers, but the brand had to make a move regardless.

“First of all, you never want to be the outdated brand, so we’ve got to modernise and this millennial generation is a huge generation coming through. If we miss that generation we won’t have a business in the next 30 years,” she explains.

“We tested the packaging and the advertising with the millennial consumer, but we also tested it with the older consumer and it works. It’s a little bit like there’s a millennial – we call her Lily – inside everyone.”

The revamped Häagen-Dazs ice cream pints designed by Love Creative.

It was also crucial to decipher what young people look for in luxury today. Häagen-Dazs believes it is less about bling and overtly branded products, and more about experience and craftsmanship. Taking this insight on board, its aim was to retain the desire and emotion the brand evoked when it first arrived in the UK, but apply this aesthetic in a modern way.

In the 1990s, Häagen-Dazs was known for its seductive black and white adverts featuring good looking couples sharing a tub of ice cream, devised by Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Jorgensen describes these adverts as “iconic” creative that set the standard for luxury at the time and pushed the boundaries by being brave.

READ MORE: General Mills focuses on building digital IQ as it looks to take more strategic approach

“It was on the offence versus being on the defence, like here are all the million reasons why we’re so great. It was just like boom, here we are; take it or leave it, which really changed the tone,” she recalls.

“Reuben Mattus our founder started this whole ‘ice cream for adults’ thing, so it launched with a very adult positioning, then justified the price point and why it’s so premium.”

Despite having a true appreciation for those adverts, the Häagen-Dazs team recognised that the luxury cues that worked in the 1980s and 1990s are not what young people look for today.

This thinking also applies to the brand’s desire to deliver a premium experience in its ice cream shops. Realising that the aesthetic had become out of date and was resulting in a declining footfall in some markets, Häagen-Dazs has begun rolling out a refreshed in-store identity, starting on the French Riviera.

Häagen Dazs store image
Renders for the new look Häagen-Dazs ice cream shops.

The interior design takes inspiration from the new-look packaging design, mixing the brand’s signature burgundy shade with white walls and vibrant graphic patterns. This scheme is paired with natural woods and cues to the brand heritage, such as neon wall mounted quotes from founder Mattus and pendant chandeliers made from milk jugs.

The brand has also decided to completely revamp the way ice cream is sold, swapping the generic tubs for containers designed to look like giant ice cream pints.

Riding the wave of disruption

Häagen-Dazs’s vision is to be the most desired ice cream brand in the world. While it currently sits behind Unilever’s Magnum in second place, Jorgensen explains that the business is going after the number one slot with “really tight messaging” across its branding, communications and packaging.

The plan is to deepen its presence in key ice cream markets such as the UK, France, China and Korea, while at the same time broadening into new markets, formats and distribution models. The US is currently Häagen-Dazs’s biggest market, followed by Japan where the company has a strong joint venture partnership.

Jorgensen argues that to be a global name you need to be iconic and generate brand love while on a local level consumers need to feel like you understand them.

I’m sure the marketers coming through will be way better than any of us at some point, because they’re learning in such a dynamic environment.

Jennifer Jorgensen, Häagen-Dazs

“You don’t want to be unattainable and I think that’s where we got to a little bit in the past,” she says. “A little bit too unapproachable and unattainable luxury that lacked that personal connection. That’s where that balance works really well, when you’re iconic globally but have that personal connection.”

Part of creating this personal connection has meant shifting the focus from mass communication to more one-to-one social strategies. Jorgensen explains that whereas when she started working on the brand in 2014 it was almost 100% focused on TV advertising, the team recognised the brand needed to come alive on social and mobile if it was to transition from a mid-40s consumer to a 25- to 35-year-old demographic.

New limited edition flavours.

Building the emotional connection with consumers has been crucial in a market under constant disruption from the explosion of high protein, low calorie alternatives such as Halo Top. Describing itself as a “100% digital-native brand”, the LA-based company ruffled feathers last year by becoming the bestselling pint of ice cream in the US, after posting growth of 2,500% in 2016.

READ MORE: Häagen-Dazs on how it’s trying to become an ‘iconic’ brand again

Recognising that the speed and scale of Halo Top’s growth has been “remarkable”, Jorgensen explains that while Häagen-Dazs is watching the brand’s development, it has been responding with innovation of its own.

Last year, the company launched a frozen yogurt, a lighter version made with real yogurt that still retains the creaminess consumers look for from a Häagen-Dazs product. The brand has also put renewed focus into its mini-cup format.

“What we’ve learnt about Halo Top is that despite all that growth – and I know this from the US, but it’s also true in the UK – they’ve had little impact on our business. It’s good news for them that they’re growing and they’re incremental to the category, but that’s because consumers are consuming it for a different occasion,” Jorgensen explains.

“It’s more in their day-to-day repertoire versus their indulgence. People are using it more functionally, but then when they want that emotional escape they’re still using Häagen-Dazs, so in a way it’s expanded the category, which is great.”

Maths to marketing

Jorgensen has a long track history of working on thriving brands across the FMCG landscape. She kicked off her General Mills career in 1995 as a financial analyst, although it was not until 1999 that she took her first marketing role as assistant marketing manager for the Old El Paso brand.

“I was the finance person on a team working on the Old El Paso brand and my friend was like ‘you’re the only finance person who comes to the product tasting. Usually the finance people want nothing to do with us’. I was like, ‘this is the best part of my day. I love when I get to work with the product or you ask me about the advertising’,” she recalls.

“Then the president of that division came to me and said ‘you should really be in marketing’ and I was like ‘I think you’re right’. So it just kind of worked out for me that I was able to move.”

READ MORE: How marketing is working with finance to shake off the ‘us versus them’ attitude

Häagen-Dazs is on a mission to claim the top spot as the world’s most desired ice cream brand.

Jorgensen worked across a variety of brands and divisions for General Mills in the US, including Pillsbury and Yoplait, before moving to the UK in 2014 to take on the role of marketing director for Northern Europe. Then in 2016 she was appointed global brand director for Häagen-Dazs, adding vice-president to her job title in 2017.

Despite her financial background, Jorgensen explains that her passion is for creativity and setting long-term strategy. However, she argues that as a marketer if you can’t understand the numbers it’s a disaster.

“It’s really helped me understand the P&L and build those critical thinking skills to tackle a problem and know enough about your numbers to really dissect information. Marketing’s about storytelling and so being able to tell the story using data as well is important,” she explains.

Of all the experience she has gained during her 23 years at General Mills, it was her time working on the natural and organic division from 2010 to 2013 – known at the time as Small Planet Foods – that has proved the most valuable to Jorgensen in her current role.

The time spent in this division taught her about product integrity and the importance of getting the supply chain right, as well as using the ingredients to tell a story.

“With costs going up like they are right now, it’s difficult. You could be like, ‘let’s add stabilisers or artificial sweeteners’ and it’s like ‘no, that will kill the brand’. We’ve got to maintain the integrity of ingredients and what I learnt in that experience [at Small Planet Foods] is that it’s almost like a religion,” she explains.

Jorgensen also believes FMCG is an amazing training ground for young marketers, being full of cross-functional teams with deep levels of expertise. She argues that the changes taking place in the retailer environment, trading relationships and market disruption makes FMCG a better training ground than ever.

“When I started it was like you plan once a year, you buy your media in this month and you do it again. It’s not like that now. It’s very fast and agile, so it’s got to be more accelerated than it was when I was starting out,” Jorgensen adds.

“You have to learn the big picture, long-term strategy, branding and then you’re managing a crisis every single day because it’s volatile. I’m sure the marketers coming through will be way better than any of us at some point, because they’re learning in such a dynamic environment.”



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