Haagen-Dazs Saves the Honeybees

2009 Festival of Media Case Study: Media Responsibility Award

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This year's Festival of Media, held in Valencia, Spain, honored effective media campaigns from around the globe. In the next few weeks, MediaWorks will take a look at some of the winners, illuminating the insights behind the campaigns and why they worked. This week's case study, from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, won the Media Responsibility Award.

Haagen-Dazs launched the socially conscious 'HD loves HB' campaign to raise awareness about the plight of honeybees.
Haagen-Dazs launched the socially conscious 'HD loves HB' campaign to raise awareness about the plight of honeybees.
Faced with a shrinking share of the ice-cream market and a diminishing connection between it and consumers, Haagen-Dazs needed a vehicle that would help turn its situation around. That vehicle turned out to be the honeybee.

For a little more than $1 million, the storied ice-cream brand launched "HD loves HB." The effort, one of the more socially conscious and most talked about and reported on campaigns of last year, centered around saving the honey bee, whose population was mysteriously dying off. Honeybees and ice cream -- what's the connection?

Turns out Haagen-Dazs depends on bee pollination for more than 40% of its flavors. So Haagen-Dazs not only tied its brand to one of last year's hot-button issues, it actually had a connection to the cause, a must for any marketer trying to prove to a very savvy and skeptical consumer base that its green-marketing efforts aren't just a one-off.

Christine Chen, deputy director communications strategy at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the agency behind the campaign, said it wasn't looking for a cause to get behind when brainstorming ideas for the campaign but the honeybee issue was a perfect fit.

"We felt like this was something that allowed us to stay very true to who we are, and it presented a clear case to consumers as to what kind of skin we have in the game," Ms. Chen said. She said the approach offered consumers a different look at Haagen-Dazs because all of its previous communications focused on the brand and what makes for great ice cream.

"It was a very different thing to invite people in through this one angle, which showed a vulnerability to the brand that also had a connection to something larger than itself," she said. Ms. Chen said it was the connection between the cause and the brand that resonated with consumers and helped drive the success of the campaign. "That [connection] made it more than just some cause we say we care about. It was something that probably came as surprise to consumers because it was a way they never really thought about the brand before."

The pairing was also a good fit because research showed the company's consumers were increasingly more mindful about what they eat and where their food comes from.

Ms. Chen said the other component of the campaign that aided in its success was thinking of the effort as a communications platform. "Everything we did last year was focused on the idea that each piece should be a catalyst for a conversation, and the tactics and vehicles we used were meant to be little experiments unto themselves." She said the idea was to get people to think about the problem "first and foremost," and then to understand Haagen-Dazs' connection to it and become motivated to do something about it.

Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee
Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee Credit: Tony Pettinato
The company kicked off the effort by announcing a $250,000 research grant to Penn State; a new Vanilla Honey Bee flavor; a print partnership with National Geographic, Martha Stewart Living and Gourmet, featuring custom advertorials; and the first plantable, seed-embedded paper-insert ads, which readers could crumple up and plant in the ground. A hip-hop-themed "Bee Dance" video and "A Bee Graffiti" contest on Facebook drove the online effort.

The campaign generated 125 million PR impressions, the goal for the entire year, just one week after its launch. Other results included an increase in unaided brand awareness from 29% to 36%.

But like everything in life, Ms. Chen admits that timing had a lot do with the campaign's success.

"It was definitely the right time as media coverage for the bees had just started when we were planning everything and it gave the media something else to talk about," she said. "People were concerned about it and they were looking for something to do to focus their energies. We weren't asking consumers to do anything out of the ordinary, we were telling them to go eat ice cream. We said we are going to be supporting the bees no matter what and we would love for you to enjoy our ice cream while you are at it and I think that made it much more genuine for consumers."

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