Background: The background to this study is in two parts. Part 1 is Haagen-Dazs, which began in 1961 as a family-owned company making high-quality, high-end ice cream in a variety of flavors. It is famous as a kind of standard by which other ice creams are judged. That reputation was built in its 22 years as a family owned business, before it was sold to one of the giant U.S. food conglomerates, Pillsbury, in 1983. Haagen-Dazs is now owned by another mega-corporation, General Mills, but its reputation for quality still holds.
Part 2 is the U.S. honey industry. The value of this industry has several parts, the basic one being the value of the actual honey produced, which was 45.3 million pounds, from 2.68 million producing colonies, for a total value of almost $282 million in 2010, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The industry is worth a great deal more to the rest of American agriculture. The University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences estimated in 2000 that the worth of pollination services by bees is $9 billion.
This does not count the intangible societal and dietary values of the facty that as much as one-third of all foods depends on bee pollination to be either viable at all or affordable.
Problem: The problem, which began to be noticed in 2006, was that bee colonies all over the world were disappearing, and noon knew why. The problem had a name, Colony Collapse Disorder, and as much as 30% of colonies were lost. But even as losses mounted in 2007 and 2008, the cause remained elusive. The suspects were insecticides, pollution, parasites, mites, disease, contaminated water, lack of genetic diversity, stress, or some combination of one or all of these. Even the radio frequency transmissions from cell phones came in for discussion as among the causes. The industry, the U.S. government and interested third parties began mobilizing in 2007 to combat the problem. It is in this context that Haagen-Dazs enters the picture.
Situation analysis: Haagen-Dazs was not in a crisis situation. It did have crisis management and crisis communications plans in place and had used them for a relatively minor – to them – pistachio recall. Their reaction to that situation indicated a strong CSR policy, offering free replacements for pistachio flavor products even though the company did not use the suppliers affected by the recall. The potential for a problem did exist, in that their estimate was that 40% of their flavors depended on crops that depended on bee pollination. Still, the company itself was not in crisis because of colony collapse disorder. It made a voluntary decision to take part in this fight to save the honey industry.
Strategies: The company devised a strategy to do several things: to give money directly to the effort; to persuade its customer base to take part; to bring attention to the problem; and to cement their image as a company dedicated to quality in its products and as a good corporate citizen, a socially responsible corporate citizen. The textbook boils it down to three goals: business, awareness/comprehension, behavior.
The result was the Haagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees campaign, a “cause-marketing” campaign, in Fearn-Banks words, which used research and public education across multiple media, including their own packaging. The goal was not only to promote sales and revenue, but to increase public awareness of the problem and put more media attention on it and to persuade its publics to take part in the effort by planting habitat and increase visits to the main website dedicated to the battle agains CCD.
Results: According to the textbook, the campaign exceeded all goals set by Haagen-Dazs. Sales went up; media attention – favorable media attention – went up dramatically; behaviors were affected, in that visits to the honey website increased dramatically, the company was contacted by concerned customers and organizations, bee friendly seeds were distributed and planted, and the company’s brand favorable rating went up. The campaign also won a Clio in the Public Relations Consumer category and a Cannes award for corporate responsibility. It was, apparently, a wildly successful CSR campaign.
Comments: My background and natural inclination is an older school type of newspaper cynicism, so I tend to look at something like HD Loves HB as mainly a brilliant commercial ploy. That attitude is as fundamentally misguided as one that ascribes a purely altruistic motive. In reality, CCD posed a real though a neither immediate nor fatal threat to Haagen-Dazs. It was in their best interests to help protect a major source of their raw material and if, in the process, they can increase their business and burnish their image, so much the better. That is, really, no more than all of us do, in one way and another.
And, my natural cynical outlook notwithstanding, I think it was a very good thing to do in absolute terms. We all have to make our livings in our respective ways, whether as individuals or corporations, and as present and future PR professionals, our jobs are to facilitate communications where institutions and publics meet in both commercial and non-commercial contexts. Here, Haagen-Dazs took a proactive stance on a growing problem and used it to create a better relationship with and expand its customer base. There’s nothing wrong with that. Contrast HD with Exxon Valdez, and with Exxon’s handling so far with its pipeline spill on the Yellowstone River in southern Montana. So far, Exxon has repeated some of its mistakes from Valdez, promising to do whatever’s necessary while minimizing the scope of the problem. For instance, here is the lead of the AP story that today (July 8) tops the first page of a Google search for “Exxon Yellowstone River”: “The scope of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s oil leak into the Yellowstone River could extend far beyond a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of the famed waterway, the company acknowledged under political pressure Monday.”
HD Loves HB, I think, is an illustration of PR functioning at its best.
Footnote: I don’t know that anyone can say how much Haagen-Dazs figures into it, but something has improved for the honeybee industry. NASS statistics for 2010 show that the number of producing bee colonies was up by 7% over 2009, and the yield per colony was up 12%.
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