THE MARKETING 100: BLUE BELL: JOHN BARNHILL JR.

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It's entirely possible to be an ice cream aficionado and yet be unaware of the Blue Bell brand.

Part of that has to do with the Texas-based company's market penetration, focused mainly in 12 southern states. It also has to do with Blue Bell's aw-shucks ad strategy, embodied by the self-descriptive slogan, "The little creamery in Brenham."

Little Blue Bell is now the No. 3 branded ice-cream maker in the country, behind only Dreyer's Grand and Breyers. Last year, Blue Bell had sales of $175 million, up 33.4% according to Information Resources Inc., making it the fastest-growing brand in the top five.

John Barnhill Jr., exec VP-general sales manager, says Blue Bell's successful expansion is due in part to its careful rollout and quirky advertising.

"We go into a market where stores have been familiar with us from another market," he says. "If we are in a city and the supermarket has been pleased with us, it's very likely they will ask us to go to another market."

Once in the new market, Mr. Barnhill says Blue Bell saturates the area with TV, radio and outdoor advertising. In areas where Blue Bell advertises, it usually grabs a substantial share of the market.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth market, Blue Bell has a 61% share; in Houston, 66%.

Blue Bell's ads tend to be a bit quirky and humorous, as in the TV spot about "Fred," who throws an ice-cream party for his friends. Everyone asks Fred to reveal the secret to his great ice cream, and he goes into a long recitation of a "special recipe" involving ostrich eggs and vanilla from Madagascar. The camera then cuts to Fred stuffing Blue Bell ice cream into his freezer.

Blue Bell ads are created by Lyle Metzdorf, an advertising consultant to Blue Bell since 1969.

"What we've created through Lyle's work is a mystique, a special feeling about our ice cream," says Mr. Barnhill. "All of the major companies have bigger ad budgets than we do, so we'd better make our ads stand out."

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