Steve Rubin, CEO of the Baltimore outfit, has retained Buzztone, the Los Angeles and New York entertainment and lifestyle marketing company, to seed his brand with celebrities and integrate it into content. The company has done very little paid advertising.
"We're focused initially on getting it into the hands of the most influential people in the New York market, people who are global jet-setters and travel all across the U.S. We're trying to create passion with these different individuals," said Josh Taekman, president of Buzztone.
Taekman said that Lee's was a big hit with the Hamptons glitterati over the Fourth of July weekend, including the likes of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Beyonce and Jay-Zee and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was seen wolfing it down at P.Diddy's exclusive White Party. Hamptons magazine also plugged Lee's Death By Chocolate flavor. Taekman has also been able to get the product onto MTV's "TRL" as well as a plug from Kelly Ripa's character on ABC's "Hope & Faith." "We're not trying to force it anywhere; we're just sharing it with people," said Taekman.
"We have the highest fat. We're playing on the idea of decadence. The last ad we ran in a trade paper said 'carb, shmarb'. Then it had checks next to 'high in carb,' 'high in fat,' 'high in taste,'" said Rubin.
And don't expect Rubin to start ponying up for paid sponsorships either. "We leverage our relationships," said Taekman, "we're not into paying for sponsorships." For example, at this month's MTV Video Music Awards in Miami, Taekman's team will be serving Lee's ice cream beyond the velvet rope at some of the hot-ticket soirees that weekend, including Damon Dash's bash at the Shore Club and the Stuff magazine party on Star Island.
Rubin went on to say that most of his marketing budget—he wouldn't divulge the amount—goes toward sampling opportunities, paying for 5 vehicles and staff that are on the road sampling Lee's.
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% Rubin and his father Jacques haven't been in the ice-cream business for long. Originally in the biotech business making vaccines, they purchased the company in August 2002 from the widow and son of the original founder. Originally the Rubins came in contact with the people at Lee's when it was looking to focus on Claudia's Kitchen, the family's gift-basket and baked-goods business on the side. "My father upon tasting it, leaned over and whispered 'we should just buy 'em'".
Pints of the brand are now available in grocery and convenience stores in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Rubin said the brand just secured shelf space in Chicago and Minnesota.
Rick Brown—instrumental in the success of Ben & Jerry's—is leading the charge for shelf space as senior VP-general sales manager. "Our plans are to be a nationwide company very quickly. We're shooting to be quickly the No. 3 premium, which I think we're achieving," said Rubin. Rubin said he's happy to be in stores such as Giant and 7-Eleven. In the important New York market, Lee's can be purchased at Key Foods and Food Emporium.