As a student of marketing and a person of color, Häagen-Dazs’ new diversity-driven ad campaign quickly caught my eye. It reminded me of a very different campaign from 2013 that featured actor Bradley Cooper seductively spooning vanilla indulgence from the same premium ice cream company’s pints. Unfortunately Häagen-Dazs’ recent move from ‘entice and excite’ to ‘racially right’ is unlikely to sweeten its bottom-line.
The firm was founded in 1960 by Polish-Jewish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus, who prided themselves in not cutting corners but rather using the purest and highest quality ingredients to make their premium ice cream. Häagen-Dazs has a history of authenticity, but the firm’s current ad campaign, which highlights people of color sharing what luxury means to them, comes across as artificial compared to the company’s own past social responsibility and branding, as well as to other organizations’ diversity initiatives.
In 2008, the company launched “Häagen-Dazs loves HB” (honey bees), a campaign focused on fighting Colony Collapse Disorder, a serious problem responsible for the decline in the global bee population. Given that bees directly impact Häagen-Dazs’ ingredients and the brand’s “all natural” value proposition, the campaign connected with consumers in a genuine way, while also being the first to put the ‘bee’ cause on radar screens. The campaign made sense, given the company’s values and goals.
Häagen-Dazs undoubtedly hopes its new #ThatsDazs diversity campaign will produce similar positive social and company impacts: building its brand reputation, reaching a wider audience, and connecting with younger generations. However, as Häagen-Dazs’ own honey bee campaign showed and as other organizations’ diversity initiatives illustrate, such strategies must have meaningful connections to the company’s products and overall value proposition.
As an example, Ben & Jerry’s has been very outspoken on Instagram about causes like social justice, the support of black communities against police brutality, the school-prison pipeline, and white supremacy, as well as supporting other marginalized communities like LGBTQ+, indigenous people, and Asian Americans. It even created a social justice-inspired ice cream called Justice ReMix’d. The company also runs traditional product-focused ads, which perform better than its social issue posts. Still, the cause-related conversations stimulate significant audience engagement and overall support for the brand.
Other companies that choose to integrate inclusion and diversity in their advertising are often clothing brands, home decor product lines, and cosmetics. Compared to ice cream, these types of businesses have more obvious lifestyle-related reasons for showing diversity, as doing so lets people know that anyone can use their products and that no matter who you are, the brand has included space for “you” and your lifestyle.
For instance, many cosmetic companies have been publicly shamed for not offering makeup that suits darker and richer skin tones, making everyday products hard to track down for millions of consumers. Fortunately, a few brands like Fenty Beauty are known for their more inclusive product lines, so that when a customer sees Fenty in stores, they can feel confident that they’ll find something to suit them, just as those with lighter skin can.
Researchers and marketing professionals from Learn Hub, Black Girl Group, and Marketing Schools all agree that diversity marketing has more pros than cons, such as increasing brand loyalty and expanding customer bases, but because #ThatsDazs seems disconnected from Häagen-Dazs’ brand and doesn’t directly integrate with its products, it’s unlikely that the ice cream maker will savor any significant sales increase.
Instead of #ThatsDazs, a more authentic marketing campaign could aim to change people’s perceptions of the firm as being Scandinavian owned and operated and help them see Häagen-Dazs as more genuinely diverse, by showing the people of color responsible for creating its ads and making its products. It could also hold a contest for other creators of color, challenging them to create commercials that highlight why they love Häagen-Dazs.
A more deep-reaching diversity campaign can be great, but ultimately Häagen-Dazs must recognize that it’s an ice cream company that has established itself as a luxury brand. That positioning, more than its stance on diversity, may be hindering the company’s sales because people associate premium products with high prices, but many Häagen-Dazs products don’t deliver on that level.
So, is Häagen-Dazs too expensive? The most popular pints of ice cream in Target and Walmart are Ben & Jerry’s and Halo Top. These brands retail for about $4.50, while 14 ounces of Häagen-Dazs sells for $3.79. The other brands offer their ice cream by the pint, but by ounce their prices are virtually the same.
So why aren’t people eating as much Häagen-Dazs? As the Bradly Cooper commercial illustrated, over the years the company has placed more emphasis on its plain ice creams, over their specialty creams with chunks and swirls. Vanilla Häagen-Dazs 14 oz. costs $3.79, while a 1.5 quart of Breyers vanilla (a regional brand) only costs $4.49. At less than ten cents an ounce for comparable vanilla cream, Breyers is the better deal.
Simply said, Häagen-Dazs ice cream isn’t the best on the market for the price and flavors it offers. Diverse ads can’t distract from those basic consumer economics.
As mentioned above, there are several strategies Häagen-Dazs could pursue to make its brand more desirable to consumers, especially those who value diversity. Although the company’s current inclusivity campaign is admirable, surface-level attempts at seeming diverse are always “Simple-Minded Marketing.”