Ice cream has long been America’s traditional treat, and yet today, there are a growing number of non-traditional ice cream options. The ice cream section of most supermarkets offers a staggering array of choices, from traditional vanilla to dairy-free coconut granita sweetened with stevia. The good news for ice cream manufacturers and marketers is that certain communication best practices hold true no matter how unique the product.
In 2015, marketing researchers from SKIM, an international customer insights agency based inHoboken, N.J., analyzed 10 studies of marketing claims (on-pack and in advertising) in the ice cream category. The studies contained various product statements that were being tested for placement on packages to drive consumer purchase intent. SKIM combined those findings with direct “diagnostic” questions about consumer opinions regarding different product attributes, their shopping behavior, etc.
The results revealed a number of motivational commonalities when it comes to choosing ice cream.
Lead with benefits
There are three essential ingredients to a great claim—taste, texture and brand heritage.
Promise taste. For food in general, consumers are most enticed by compelling taste descriptors and real ingredients. Consumers are no longer satisfied with long ingredient lists full of components they can’t even pronounce. They want quality ingredients that are natural and appealing. After all, this is a food product we are talking about.
Describe texture. Taste and texture go hand in hand. No one is enticed by a tough steak or a soft cracker. Describing the smooth and creamy texture of the ice cream also implies quality ingredients and satisfying taste.
Note brand heritage. Consumers first shop the category by brand. Far gone are the days when offering a decent product would keep your brand in the green—consumers want to be reassured of your expertise and unique offering. How long have you been in business? Are you part of a family tradition? Do you support local or sustainable causes? For example, Ben & Jerry’s emphasizes fun, innovative products and support for sustainability causes. Häagen-Daz represents European and premium. Breyers stands for family and tradition.
There is often a strong emotional connection with ice cream consumption, and brands are encouraged to take that into account with their marketing strategy. What is your brand going for?
Be wary about too many “toppings”
Can claims go too far? Yes. Ice cream isn’t car shopping; it should be fun and just informative enough to motivate. We are experiencing an exciting rise in small artisanal companies offering unique varieties throughout every imaginable food category, including ice cream. This presents a wonderful opportunity to highlight unique claims of taste, texture and brand heritage. It’s also an opportunity to make claims overly complex, high-minded or unclear.
If consumers are going to indulge, an increasing percentage of them want to be assured that your product will be “worth it.” A variety of unique flavors and combinations keeps a brand portfolio relevant and attracts consumers who are seeking an interesting and rewarding experience. Layering a health twist can be helpful or hurtful, depending on your brand strategy.
Intuitively speaking, calories, fat and sugar content are important factors for products positioned as healthy or healthier options. But, today’s health claims are myriad. To a person with a dairy allergy, a soy-based claim is a health issue. To someone who wants to avoid processed foods, a claim of pasture-raised dairy ingredients may be a preference, but one that inspires tremendous passion. All that said, health-related claims can easily become confusing if they veer into territory unfamiliar to most consumers.
The early days of “BPA-free” packaging and “rBST-free” milk are great examples of claims that sometimes got ahead of mainstream consumer knowledge. There is a delicate balance in appealing to consumer taste without overwhelming them with information. Take precautions to ensure these types of claims will actually mean something to the consumer vs just adding confusion.
Play nice when it’s “us vs them”
Comparative claims are risky, and should always be used with caution, as they can easily undermine your brand and product if used incorrectly. They can be used to show quality and build credibility as long as they focus on a key benefit and offer a tangible promise with a strategic benchmark. The ice cream category is highly experiential and subjective regarding taste, so it’s safer to use claims that emphasize taste, noting the quality or origin of ingredients and including visuals. If you’re going to try a comparative claim, SKIM’s analysis found those marketing messages must make a promise that addresses a consumer’s need or desire (e.g., lower fat content than regular ice cream).
When it comes down to it, all great marketing claims should offer the same things we look for in ice cream—good taste, authenticity and a feel-good experience. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and always place nice.