Do you remember when Haagen-Dazs was a thing? A sexy, naughty, erotic thing? In a recent 80’s movie marathon, it was exhilarating to see Haagen-Dazs product placement in both Wall Street and Fatal Attraction as a signal to conspicuous consumption and grown-up decadence. In the former, Daryl Hannah throws a tub in the microwave while making bedroom eyes at Charlie Sheen, who is busy with his MagiMix (yes, really. These were simpler times for us all). While in the latter, pre-crazy Glen Close is a “strange girl” to Micheal Douglas’ “naughty boy” over a pot of pralines and cream. The branding and advertising of Haagen-Dazs in the late 80’s and early 90’s was so risque, my pre-teen self was almost certain that it lay at the heart of how babies got made. Lunch may have been for wimps but Haagen-Dazs was for sexy-times.
So what the hell happened? Why did a brand who encouraged us to “lose control” end up losing its mojo? Since when did Haagen-Dazs get relegated to the freezer cabinets of corner shops and the clutches of single females who want to eat their feelings?
Firstly, I blame Nigella. I blame her for a variety of things, mainly for fauxgasming into her fridge in the middle of the night. But in this instance, I blame her for luring women back into dessert making with the promise of turning each and every one of us into a ‘domestic goddess’. Before she came along - and as Daryl Hannah’s character in Wall Street is testament to - all a woman had to do to snag a man was to backcomb her fringe, chuck some white silk sheets on the bed and crack open the Haagen-Dazs. No Cath Kidston pinnies and coo-ing over cupcakes for Daryl. The Haagen-Dazs advertising may have been provocative and alluring, but the subtext (or the reality for its target market of 28-35 year old couples) was that it was acceptable for a hostess to put a tub of ice cream on the dinner table and call it dessert.
Mostly, however, I blame Haagen-Dazs. They had everything going for them, even in the face of adversity and rising competition. They achieved what so many fattening or unhealthy food brands would kill for - turning their main criticism into its main selling point. Until 1997, BBH created memorable, award-winning campaigns that transcended the category by positioning ice-cream as a glamourous, indulgent treat that absolutely wasn’t for kids. Quadrupling sales in the process. And yet, since dropping BBH, Haagen-Dazs have slid slowly towards the unremarkable. Just a different packaging to Ben & Jerry’s or Green & Blacks.
In 1995 The Independent noted BBH’s leveraging of “post-aspirationals” - “Five years of recession and a complexifying market place have encouraged advertisers to appeal to consumers not so much on the increasingly intangible attraction of what they want to be, but rather on the more certain repulsion of what they definitely do not want to be”. Recession and a complex market place? Sounds familiar. If there was ever a moment to persuade people that they definitely do not want to be a bunch of post-Olympic, cash-strapped, homemade bunt cake-making, frozen yogurt eaters, this is it. Haagen-Dazs - we want you to bring sexy back. No spoons required.