Häagen-Dazs generates some buzz
The plight of the honeybee has been getting a lot of press. For those of you who let your subscription to Discover lapse, the honeybee population has been decimated in the past two years by an epidemic known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes worker bees to disappear mysteriously from their hives.
Now if your first reaction is, "Great, I won't get stung at my backyard barbecue this summer," think again, especially if you like to eat. Honeybees play a crucial role in the food chain, so it's in everyone's interest to keep these insects buzzing.
Ice cream maker Häagen-Dazs has gone all out to do just that with its "Help the Honey Bees" campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.
HD + HB makes perfect sense, says Goodby group communications strategist Christine Chen, given Häagen-Dazs' reliance on the good work of the honeybees. One-third of the food we devour, including the fruit and nuts used in ice cream flavors, comes from plants pollinated by honeybees, the company points out. "The fact that they're in trouble affects 40 percent of the Häagen-Dazs flavor lineup. That's significant and frightening," Chen says. "It actually goes deeper if you trace it all the way (to) the alfalfa the cows eat."
Beyond spotlighting a critical cause, the "Help the Honey Bees" campaign allows Häagen-Dazs to tout its all-natural ingredients, Goodby group creative director Jim Elliot adds. Naturally, Häagen-Dazs created a Vanilla Honey Bee flavor to drive home its message. "It was a no-brainer that we needed a special flavor to honor the honeybee and to anchor the campaign," Elliot says.
Armed with a brand-spanking-new flavor to tempt ice cream lovers, Goodby launched the multifaceted Honey Bees campaign. It all began last winter when Häagen-Dazs debuted helpthehoneybees.com, an animated site with information on how people can help the bees. According to Google Analytics, helpthehoneybees.com drew more than 309,000 visitors and well over 2.5 million page views from its February launch through June 5, with consumers spending an average of four minutes and 40 seconds on the site.
Additionally, the company announced it would donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the Vanilla Honey Bee flavor - as well as a slice of sales of existing flavors affected by the honeybee decline - toward helping honeybees. The donation will take the form of a $250,000 gift to fund bee research at Pennsylvania State University and the University of California at Davis. Häagen-Dazs also formed a seven-member scientific advisory board to create educational materials and keep the public up to date on research findings.
Heck, Häagen-Dazs even offers - through helpthehoneybees.com - to provide ice cream to events organized to support the bee cause.
The good deeds were accompanied by pitches to magazine and newspaper editors, TV networks, and local television stations in an attempt to spread the word about the honeybee crisis. "The first week we got over 150 million pr impressions, which included outlets that we needed validation from, like NPR and CNN," Chen says.
Subsequently, Goodby produced a single television commercial, "Opera," that was distributed on sites like YouTube. Directed by Cedric Nicholas Troyan and Laurent Ledru of bicoastal design and animation collective Psyop, the rather romantic spot features a flower in need of pollination calling out to a honeybee, who tries but fails to reach her.
The agency also produced two viral videos directed by Trish Sie of the Santa Monica-based production company Bob Industries; Sie is famous for directing OK Go's "Here It Goes Again" music video, the one with the band on treadmills.
In the print realm, there was a two-page spread for Häagen-Dazs in the June issue of Martha Stewart Living, which featured a cover photo of a honey-glazed beehive cake with marzipan bees and a three-page feature story about honeybees under siege.
In addition, Goodby ran a paper insert in Newsweek that was embedded with seeds; consumers could plant the piece of paper, and, with a little water and sunlight, it would sprout into wildflowers. Chen says the agency would have loved to run the insert in more publications, but couldn't because of the considerable expense.
While the "Help the Honey Bees" campaign, which will remain active at least through the summer, is certainly creative, is it truly buzz-worthy? Alison DaSilva, vice president of insight and leadership for Cone, a Boston-based strategy and marketing firm with expertise in cause marketing, thinks so. "It's a quirky issue and an unexpected campaign," DaSilva says."I really like the fact that [Häagen-Dazs] is looking at the issue as something that is critical to their business and the marketplace."
Consumers love cause marketing, by the way. According to Cone's 2007 Cause Evolution Study, 83 percent of Americans surveyed believe that companies have a responsibility to help support causes, and 92 percent say they have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they care about.
Additionally, many consumers reward companies for their good behavior: 87 percent of those surveyed said they would switch brands (if price and quality of product were equal) if the other brand is associated with a worthy cause. When it comes to choosing causes, 87 percent also said that companies should support causes that have the most social and/or environmental impacts.
That seems to be the trend today in cause marketing, DaSilva notes, pointing out that in the 1990s companies tended to pick causes they thought their customers would like as opposed to choosing causes that truly had something to do with their business.
Häagen-Dazs' competitor Ben & Jerry's takes a more generalist approach, creating promotions around broad issues like global warming and poverty. For example, the company recently created a John Lennon tribute flavor called Imagine Whirled Peace as a part of a campaign promoting world peace.
"For Häagen-Dazs, we wanted the cause to be important to us, not just as citizens of the world," Chen says. "We wanted to be genuine about what we could impact and what impacts our business, too."
Mind Your Beeswax
If DaSilva has any criticism of the Häagen-Dazs' campaign, it would be what she views as its failure to clearly show consumers results. "We always like to say, 'You have to earn your accolades,'" DaSilva says. To do that, Häagen-Dazs needs to be clear about what percentage of ice cream sales it will donate to research and exactly what that money will be used for, she says. Some of the language on helpthehoneybees.com, for example, is vague: "Häagen-Dazs ice cream, along with your help, will donate money in support of honey bee and sustainable pollination research programs at Pennsylvania State University and the University of California at Davis."
"The Attorney General gives guidelines regarding special verbiage you're supposed to have regarding promotions like this, so there needs to be clarity around their marketing message," DaSilva says. "How much money is being raised over what period, and where is it going? There needs to be more specifics there." But overall, DaSilva gives "Help the Honey Bees" high marks.
So what do beekeepers make of it? "Beekeepers are very happy about this," says Peter Sinton, president of the 140-member San Francisco Beekeepers Association and a retired business journalist who wrote for Time, BusinessWeek and the San Francisco Chronicle during his career. "We discussed it at our last meeting in May, and we thought it was a good idea. It's always good to come out and support pollinators, including honeybees. I'm not saying the reasoning or the strategy [behind the campaign] is completely pure," Sinton says. "It is self-serving, but it is a reasonable mission."
Beyond liking the campaign, what do his colleagues in the beekeeping community think of Häagen-Dazs' Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream? "A number of them have tasted it," Sinton says of the members of his beekeeping group, "and they think it's good." Then he adds, "But they'd like more honey in it." Of course they would.