How to sell an ice cream

We talk to a lot of our big FMCG clients about functional and emotional benefits.

Functional benefits tell you what a product does for you. This deodorant stops you sweating. This bleach kills bacteria.

Emotional benefits tell you how a product makes you feel. So if the deodorant stops you sweating, you’ll feel more comfortable. Using the bleach to kill bacteria makes you feel reassured that you won’t get sick.

Brands themselves have emotional benefits too. You might buy a Dove deodorant because Dove stands for beauty and purity. You might buy a Domestos bleach because Domestos stands for power and trust.

This is a phenomenon luxury brands depend on. The liquid in a bottle of Chanel perfume isn’t worth £80, but the name on the side of the bottle is. Buying Chanel tells the world you’re the sort of person who buys Chanel, which in many circles is a positive association.

So what about food?

Basic foods do have functional benefits. Vegetables can help you avoid getting ill. The proteins in meat help your body repair itself. But when you get down to food that’s more for pleasure than health, the picture gets less clear.

Let’s take ice cream as an example. It tastes nice, and that’s basically why it exists. So how do you convince people that yours tastes nicer than all the other tubs on the shelf?

There are five ways:

1. Focus on provenance

Everyone sells vanilla. So how do you make sure they choose your vanilla? Say where it’s from. Madagascan vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla.

Some ingredients, like mint, grow just about everywhere. So there’s less power in stating the country of origin. In those cases, just zoom in. Does the mint grow on a mountain-side? Near a stream? In volcanic soil? Paint a picture for your customers.

2. Focus on process

Maybe you pick the mint by hand, or you use a special brush to clean off the dirt, or you crush it in an industrial-sized pestle and mortar to bring out the flavour. Whatever you do, if it helps improve the product then people will want to know about it.

3. Tell stories

If you have processes that don’t improve the product but have their own unique charm, shout about those too. I went on a tour of the Noilly Prat distillery in the south of France recently and they told us about the stirrer. All the other vermouth brands have machinery that stirs all their barrels simultaneously, but at Noilly Prat there’s a man with a paddle who goes from barrel to barrel stirring by hand. It’s more expensive, slower and less effective, but it’s charming. It tells you they care.

Some brands even invent processes just so they can add to their story. Again, a Noilly Prat example: during the 19th century, casks of wine were taken across the ocean on the open decks of ships, exposed to the elements. Today, Noilly Prat has a walled outdoor area at the distillery called L’Enclos where the barrels of wine mature through sun, rain and snow. It sounds great and it’s intriguing. So who cares if it doesn’t actually make any difference?

4. Tantalise the senses

Which makes you hungrier?

Delicious fudge ice cream or Silky ice cream with flaky fudge.

The magic is in the adjectives. Delicious tells you how I feel about it. That’s fine if you know me and trust my judgement, but if I’m a big brand describing my own product you’d be right to be cynical.

What makes it delicious is going to be the way it tantalises the senses. The way it looks, feels, tastes, smells or (rarely) sounds. So describe that instead. In this case, we’ve gone with the ‘feel’ words silky and flaky.  

5. Break the norms

People are so used to seeing certain words and phrases that they don’t even notice them anymore. Even Madagascan vanilla probably falls into that category. So shake it up. Say vanilla from Madagascar at the very least, or vanilla from Melaky in northwestern Madagascar.

And that’s it. Now, I think we all deserve a flake.

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