Ice cream partners offer cool QSR alternatives

In the increasingly crowded summer promo marketplace, it can be a chore to find an available QSR partner to help build some buzz for a launch, particularly since the two chains with the widest North American reaches--McDonald's and Burger King--fill their calendars with three-week kids meal deals many months in advance.
April 1, 2002

In the increasingly crowded summer promo marketplace, it can be a chore to find an available QSR partner to help build some buzz for a launch, particularly since the two chains with the widest North American reaches–McDonald’s and Burger King–fill their calendars with three-week kids meal deals many months in advance.

But on the fringes of the QSR category are a couple of savvy ice cream chains whose very nature makes them ideally suited to summer initiatives. Couple that key seasonal advantage with their ability to accommodate longer promo windows and their dedication to keying into a property’s themes with innovative product exclusives, and Baskin Robbins and Dairy Queen are getting a lot of attention from entertainment players looking for alternative fast-food tie-in options.

Baskin Robbins had its first big-league hit with last year’s Shrek promotion with DreamWorks Consumer Products. Originally slated to run in roughly 2,400 North American stores from mid-April to mid-June, the promo was extended through August to satisfy consumer and franchisee demand. Its success hinged on the popularity of an array of unique ice cream treats that reflected the feature film’s main message that things are not always what they appear to be.

The kid-targeted Shrek Swirl sherbet, for example, looked like it contained two different flavors–green apple and purple grape. But the green part of the frozen treat actually tasted like grapes, the purple part like apple, and the whole concoction was topped with popping candy rocks that seemed to trigger the magical flavor transformation. The adult-skewing Shrekked Out Chocloate Mint, meanwhile, contained chocolate-flavored pieces that oozed green goo when bitten into.

‘We’re not about toys and premiums,’ says Joe Adney, Baskin Robbins’ senior VP of marketing. ‘Our focus is on translating the property into interactive products, and that approach, because it offers a higher level of consumer participation, is very appealing to kids today.’

Another benefit to working with Baskin Robbins is that the company limits its promotional activity to one main summer initiative. ‘When we do a promo, our partner owns our stores, and we have a lot of fun theming out the décor,’ says Adney. ‘We never have multiple things going on at the same time–an entertainment tie-in is really special for us and calls for one agenda and a singular focus.’

This summer, Baskin Robbins is devoting its promo energies exclusively to Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, another DreamWorks film that’s set for a May 24 theatrical debut. The promo will run from the end of this month until early July, and BR is again tying its product into the film’s central theme–the coming-of-age transformation of an innocent foal into a robust and bold stallion. The Spirit Swirl & Shake looks like an innocuous vanilla milkshake at the outset, but when you stir in some special chocolate cookie pieces, the shake changes into a vibrant blue or purple shade, and the flavor morphs from vanilla to cookies and cream. The vivid colors of the flick’s backdrop of U.S. national parks are also reflected in a Wild & Reckless Spirit flavor that is green, blue and purple in hue and features intense citrus flavors that jibe with Spirit’s personality.

Dairy Queen is also getting into the themed treat game with a special teen-targeted Scooby-Doo Mystery Crunch Blizzard flavor headlining its June 2002 promotion for the Warner Bros. pic in 5,000 North American stores. (See ‘WB unveils Scooby’s promo snacks’ on the previous page for more details on this initiative.) With kids meals and ice cream cakes also at its disposal, Dairy Queen’s main advantage is that its promos can target a wide range of demographics. ‘DQ has the distinct ability to appeal to a broad range of people because its balanced mix of food and treat offerings open the menu up to lunch and dinner as well as dessert and snacks,’ says Mark Workman, president of FirstFireworks Group, Dairy Queen’s entertainment promotions agency.

Both chains have also made significant strides in advertising in recent years so that they are now able to support their promos nationally with integrated TV, radio, print on-line and outdoor media. A string of TV ads developed with DreamWorks touted the reappearance of the Shrek treats when the movie launched on video this past November. Appearing on a whack of U.S. channels including Cartoon Network and Nick, the ads helped some Baskin Robbins stores achieve 20% increases for the off-season months of November, December and January. The video promo also benefited from an instant-win sweeps on 15 million videos and DVDs that offered free cones as a de facto prize.

Neither Baskin Robbins nor Dairy Queen has an exclusive deal with any one particular studio, so they are wide open to pitches for future summer promo opportunities. Baskin Robbins is looking for TV or film properties that play to a family audience and that are fun, upbeat and emotionally-grabbing, while DQ is seeking properties that match its friendly all-American image. Planning for summer promotions starts about a year out, so both chains are working on locking up their 2003 deals in the next couple of months.

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