BRANDING

Will Shoppers Scream for an Ice Cream Maker's New Packaging?

Gifford's ice cream has been a New England institution for decades. Will its super-vivid new packaging help it go national or alienate existing customers?

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Gifford's ice cream has been a New England institution since the family-owned creamery, based in Skowhegan, Maine, opened its first ice cream stand, in 1980. But by 2010, Gifford's was eyeing markets beyond New England. And to compete far from its home turf, the brand needed a makeover, argued Lindsay Gifford-Skilling, 28, the company's vice president of sales. This was no small move. Gifford's has sported a folksy look since it began selling in supermarkets, in 1982. Despite initial skepticism from her father, John, and uncle Roger, who have run the business for the past few decades, Gifford-Skilling got the nod to hire Bath, Maine-based Briggs Advertising. Nine months later, in April 2011, the new packaging hit the shelves.

Before

The History
This image of the family's first ice cream stand, in Skowhegan, Maine, was meant to reassure longtime customers of the company's stands that the store-bought product was of the same high quality.

The Credentials
Gifford's has won a number of awards over the years, but Gifford-Skilling was worried that flavors needed to be touted more aggressively on the cartons, a concern that was confirmed by a couple of big customers. "An executive at our largest retail chain said he had trouble reading the flavors" on the old package, she says.

A Wholesome Product
This drawing of a kid lapping a cone was meant to convey the product's family-owned nature. "Whenever we did focus groups, the message that came back was that people viewed us as quality, old-fashioned ice cream," says Roger Gifford. But Gifford-Skilling argued that the message and the logo would not play well outside New England.

After

The Logo
The new G logo was designed to evoke both an ice cream sundae and a smile; the product is fun, it says. But in a radical departure from the earlier look, Gifford-Skilling opted not to put the logo at the center of the package. This concerned Roger Gifford. "I worried that we could lose some loyal customers who wouldn't be able to find us," he says. His niece eventually persuaded him to take the plunge.

The Flavor
The new packaging puts the flavor front and center. The bold, eye-catching typography is designed to help the carton stand out in the dairy case. "Premium shoppers are looking for flavors," says Gifford-Skilling. "We are sending the message we are worth every penny."

The Ingredients
The bright, vivid images of ingredients (other flavors have pictures of blueberries and a coffee pot) are meant to grab attention and trigger an emotional response in consumers.

The Pitch
Each flavor is described in colorful terms. The copy aims to do more than describe what goes into the ice cream."These aren't just literal descriptions," says Walter Briggs, president of Briggs Advertising. "We wanted to have some fun and show that Gifford's is different."

The Bottom Line The new packaging appears to be a winner. Even though the look didn't debut until April, same-store sales grew 19 percent in 2011. Says Gifford-Skilling: "The real test is in the long term, but initial feedback has been promising."

Expert Opinion

A Potential Turnoff. I'm not crazy about the old package-;the colors aren't great, the flavors don't stand out, and the image in the background makes it very busy. But the new design could turn off a lot of longtime consumers, or longtime consumers may not be able to find the brand in the freezer. They went from one extreme to another. We probably would have updated the old logo to make it stand out-;but to avoid losing the entire history of the brand.

-;Dan Matauch, Principal and Creative Director, Flowdesign

A Big Mistake. They threw the baby out with the bath water. There is a great story here-;a family-run business that has been around for decades. But there is nothing on the new packaging that reminds you of the old package. The old design does feel Victorian, sort of Norman Rockwell-esque. But there are things from that design that could have been leveraged in the new look. Now they don't even talk about the brand's heritage.

-;Dyfed ("Fred") Richards, Global Executive Creative Director, Interbrand

The Right Move. Gifford's needed to make a bold statement to get the attention it was looking for. The new logo is clear, simple, and easily understood. The large typography for the flavor is attention grabbing. There is a trend in marketing right now toward simplicity. In a world that has become oversaturated with information, one way to differentiate yourself is to be as simple and clear as possible.

-;Richard Bird, President, R.BIRD

A Step Forward. Gifford's has gone from being your father's Oldsmobile to the fastest Cadillac on the street, from packaging that was dated and almost generic to something that is exciting and aspirational. It stands out and looks different, like something you'd want to try. The Gifford's name means nothing to a lot of people, so it was smart of them to focus on the flavor. Their base is small enough that they can take a risk like that.

-;Gary Stibel, Founder and CEO, New England Consulting Group

IMAGE: Kelly Kollar
From the December 2011 issue of Inc. magazine




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