|In order to get better product placement, Cold Stone Creamery is trashing its drab plastic buckets for slickly designed paper cartons.
The ice cream retailer plans an April rollout for the complete makeover of its take-home containers -- a move driven largely by the fact that the company, which does not buy traditional advertising, relies heavily on entertainment marketing to reach consumers.
The new packaging replaces the sterile white plastic tubs that the company previously used with four-color paper containers that come in three sizes. The vibrant red color on the containers and use of graphics is supposed to reflect the atmosphere of the company’s stores -- one in which an overly energetic crew of staffers serenade customers while mixing up customized creations. Cold Stone’s logo remains virtually untouched.
“The packaging creates a better visual representation for us,” said Cold Stone spokesman Kevin Donnellan.
Cold Stone needed it.
When the brand appeared in a scene on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” late last year, a character is shown eating from one of the company’s gallon-sized buckets. Despite the size of the container, Cold Stone’s logo was hard to identify. The product almost seemed generic.
The appearance on the hit sitcom represented 36 seconds that Cold Stone considered a coup, but it also was a wakeup call. It may have landed a prime spot on a hit show, but it was starting to lose out on other high-profile opportunities -- all because of its packaging.
Producers and prop masters just didn’t consider the containers attractive enough, and the plastic often presented a problem, appearing washed out or creating a glare from the studio lights on set. As a result, the product was either removed, or worse, replaced at the last minute with a rival’s ice cream.
“We have missed out on opportunities, but we won’t lose out on those opportunities any longer,” Mr. Donnellan said.
Cold Stone had already been planning on revamping its look, but said that its increased reliance on product placement as a marketing tool forced executives to speed up the process.
“We started looking at evolving the packaging some time ago,” Mr. Donnellan said. “There were a number of reasons why it needed to be upgraded but this was one that was the final straw. It continued to be brought to our attention that we could create more opportunity for us if we did the upgrade. It’s what lit a fire under our folks. The packaging is a new touch point and medium for us.”
Cold Stone declined to disclose just how much the redesign cost, but calls it a “significant investment.”
Privately held Cold Stone, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., operates 1,256 mostly franchise-owned stores around the world. It opened 330 new locations in 2005, and plans to open another 300 this year. It competes with rival scoop shops like Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs, which made up $8.1 billion of the $20.5 billion generated from ice cream and frozen dessert sales in 2002, according to IFDA/2004 Dairy Facts.
Cold Stone’s new packaging, which was designed early in 2005, will appear in its stores starting in April and be featured in a campaign that promotes the company’s take-home offerings through July 4.
Pier 3 Entertainment, which also reps Google, Bosch and Skyy Vodka, among others, oversees Cold Stone’s product placement efforts from its headquarters in Redondo Beach, Calif. It has already begun introducing the new containers to productions around Hollywood. The company most recently landed Cold Stone on the ABC sitcom “Crumbs” in February. In it, two of the lead characters eat ice cream from the old Cold Stone containers.
Cold Stone requires Pier 3 to place it in a specific number of TV or movie projects per year, but declined to disclose that number.
“We take a look at pop culture and what is cutting edge,” Mr. Donnellan said. “We want to be in the projects that get the most audience and drive the most sales to our stores.” Measuring whether a placement actually boosts sales is “impossible,” he said. The company considers mostly Nielsen ratings as a way to gauge success.
The ideal placement for the company would be to have a scene set at a Cold Stone Creamery store, showing women -- the company’s primary demographic -- or families buying ice cream and choosing their flavors, said Thomas Loversky, president of Pier 3 Entertainment.
“We are looking for placements that highlight the Cold Stone brand in a positive light and showcase the unique buying experience of Cold Stone and captures Cold Stone's primary demographic,” Mr. Loversky said.
In addition to traditional product placement, Cold Stone has also negotiated tie-ins with family friendly films like 20th Century Fox’s animated “Ice Age” and “Robots,” which it promoted in its stores. It has no tie-ins planned this year.
Although its sales have surged from $88 million in 2002 to $408 million in 2005, the company remains committed to product placement as its primary form of advertising, along with media and public relations, although it’s considering more online ads in the future to attract new customers.
“Our marketing philosophy is focused around a word-of-mouth strategy,” Mr. Donnellan said. “Entertainment marketing and product placement and brand integration is about what others are saying about you.”