Johnson's World: We All Scream for Ice Cream

Can you follow Dairy Queen’s lead and make your “old dog’s old tricks” seem new to a new audience?

August 1, 2016
Steve Johnson of Copresco 54faf2499161d

Here we are, in the dog days of summer, trapped indoors with our modern central air conditioning. So pervasive is indoor cooling that many of have forgotten that era before air conditioning when it was hotter and stuffier indoors than out, and we were forced into the yard and into the street in hopes of cooling off on the porch or under the shade tree with a glass of ice-cold lemonade.

If these weren’t enough we ventured forth in search of the ultimate cooler. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, the old saying went. To find it, you went to your hometown Dairy Queen.

Every small town in America has one, and most urban centers now have quite a few. Dairy Queen is in all fifty states and every Canadian province; in fact, in most countries in the world.

Dairy Queen began in the 1940’s, when soft-serve ice cream was a novelty. Getting a soft-serve cone was a treat for kids and adults alike.

In the fifties and sixties Dairy Queen became entrenched as a small town fixture, but in the fast food chains were taking hold, most offering milkshakes and some offering ice cream. These restaurants had indoor seating with air conditioning, while Dairy Queen had walk-up only service windows.

Baskin-Robbins opened stores with 31 flavors while DQ soft serve remained vanilla only.

In the mid-seventies Häagen-Dazs opened its first retail outlet. The brand was already popular in stores for its higher cream content and natural ingredients. Its richer taste appealed, and now Häagen-Dazs was competing directly with Dairy Queen for walk-up business.

The last straw was startup Ben & Jerry’s who took the super-premium formula a step beyond by chopping up candy bars and mixing them into their ice cream. To this they added cutsie flavor names, hip packaging, and support for left-wing political causes, for a marketing formula tailored to win over the yuppie market.

Venerable Dairy Queen, with its small-town feel and Dennis-the-Menace as its spokesman, seemed quite old-fashioned, not in a nostalgic way, but more like a faded and dusty relic.

What’s an old company to do? The answer came in 1985 in the form of the Blizzard. It isn’t clear whether DQ invented the Blizzard recipe, but they certainly invented the name and marketed the living daylights out of it.

Convincing franchisees to sell Blizzards was easy because it was so simple to make. All it took was a slight modification to the milkshake mixer. Fill a cup with soft serve ice cream, add some chopped up candy bar, and voila! A Blizzard.

What can we who aren’t in the ice cream business learn from the Blizzard?

First of all, a wonderful new product doesn’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Blizzard was new to customers, yet in reality it was just another repackaging of soft serve ice cream.

The Blizzard followed an easy path to innovation: borrow freely from competitors’ good ideas. Note that borrowing is not copying and copying is not innovation. DQ appropriated Ben & Jerry’s process of adding candy bar pieces to ice cream without any attempt to make their ice cream taste like Ben & Jerry’s.

The Blizzard was scalable. Once the product was introduced, it could be carried on ad infinitum. Suddenly there was no end to the variety of flavors available at previously vanilla-only Dairy Queen, yet they still do it all with only vanilla ice cream.

The Blizzard’s success is really about marketing. Dairy Queen constantly promotes the Blizzard with the Flavor of the Month, the Blizzard Battle (really just two flavors of the month), and a Blizzard Fan Club. A constant barrage of advertising retains the hearts and minds of ice cream lovers. Other restaurants now sell blizzard-like products, but in the public’s mind the Blizzard is inextricably linked to Dairy Queen.

What new product or service could you create with little or no changes to your office or factory workflow? What could you offer that would seem new and intriguing to your clients but non-disruptive to your workers? Instead of teaching an old dog new tricks, how can you make your old dog’s old tricks seem new to a new audience?