How to survive the coming recession: A lesson from a 90s Häagen-Dazs ad campaign

Why do you buy the things you buy?

Contrary to popular belief, consumers aren't as rational as they like to believe. And you and I aren't exceptions.

The truth is, we buy things based on our unconscious urges and emotional needs. We buy first, then post-rationalize our decisions. We tell ourselves a story. "I deserve it", "I need this", "They offer free shipping" or "It was a bargain".

But when a recession strikes, things change. People buy less, but they still need to buy things. So what changes is the story we tell ourselves to justify the things we buy. 

When US ice-cream maker Häagen-Dazs entered the UK market in the early 90s, the UK was in the middle of a recession. 

Not the best time for a luxury ice-cream brand to enter a new market. To make things worse, in the UK ice cream was perceived as a seasonal product, consumed mainly by children. But Häagen-Dazs believed there was a market opportunity for premium adult ice-cream. 

So they launch an ad campaign to position Häagen-Dazs as a sexy, sophisticated adult treat.

That's why their ads made ice cream erotic. And the copy hardly mentioned the word ice cream.

Because of these ads in 1991 Häagen-Dazs became the most talked about ice cream brand in the UK. And sales rose by 398% vs 1990.

How could such a thing happen during a recession?

Häagen-Dazs didn’t realize at the time, but they accidentally created a fashion brand. 

Because at £3 a pot, Häagen-Dazs was not only accessible, it was the most fashionable adult treat you could buy.

When the next recession arrives, build a positive narrative around your brand so your customers can also change the story they tell themselves. 

Your pal,

Miguel Ferreira
Founder & Chief Copywriter, Teardwn + Nishi + Jack Had A Groove FM