A little ice-cream company went from ten employees to nearly $50 million in revenue and changed an industry in the process. Fundamental to their growth: understanding their core “public.”
The history of public relations (PR) and marketing is strewn with monumental errors and clumsily worded slogans. It’s also bursting with stellar examples of a well-phrased message delivered to the right group at the exact right moment, with the result of pure gold.
Such has been the case with Halo Top, a previously little-known ice-cream company of about ten employees, which managed to outsell the giants of the pint, Ben & Jerry’s and
Halo Top Creamery, formed in 2012 in Los Angeles, reached #5 on the Inc. 5000 list for 2017. They took in $49.1 million in revenue for 2016 and experienced nearly 21,000 percent expansion over three years.1
In his article “WRONG PUBLICS,” L. Ron Hubbard wrote:
“What is a ‘PUBLIC’?
“One hears ‘the public,’ a star says ‘my public.’ You look in the dictionary and you find ‘public’ means an organized or general body of people.”
“‘PUBLIC’ is a professional term to PR people. It doesn’t mean the mob or the masses. It means ‘a TYPE OF AUDIENCE.’
“The broad population to PR professionals is divided up into separate publics.”
“WRONG PUBLIC sums up about 99 percent of the errors in PR activities and adds up to the majority reason for PR failures.
“So what’s a ‘public’?
“In PRese (PR slang) use ‘public’ along with another word always. There is no single word form for ‘public’ in PR. A PR never says THE public.”
“There are hundreds of different types of publics.”
“All expert PR is aimed at a specific, carefully surveyed, special audience called a ‘________ public.’
“When you know that you can grasp the subject of PR.
“When you use it expertly you are a pro PR!”
Halo Top’s rise is a study in PUBLICS, but you have to start at the beginning.
The Right Mix
In 2011, Halo Top’s founder, Justin Woolverton, was experimenting with Greek yogurt and fruit to produce a low-calorie frozen dessert that resembled ice cream.
“It was just something that I was making in my kitchen because I didn’t like sugar,” says Woolverton. “It wasn’t until later, when I got an actual $20 ice cream maker, that I was like, ‘Oh, wow, there’s something here.”2
It took Woolverton about a year to perfect the recipe. He dropped the Greek yogurt from the mix. “If I came out with a frozen Greek yogurt, any of the yogurt guys would stomp me immediately,” he says. He opted for the plant-based, non-caloric sweetener stevia, extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant of Brazil and Paraguay.
Originally founded as Eden Creamery in 2012, the company changed its name to Halo Top a year later (the name Eden was taken). Halo Top was chosen in keeping with a heavenly or angelic theme. The lid being a “golden halo” helped seal the concept. The low-calorie ice cream was first sold in hip spots like L.A.’s Canyon Country Store and enjoyed modest success.
The company opted for a bold marketing angle. A pint of Halo Top has between 240 and 360 calories, a fact written in big, bold letters on the front of their packaging. A typical pint of Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs can contain about 1,000 calories. Halo Top boasts more protein than those brands. Its density is far less, which can be a plus for those seeking a lighter “pint of ice cream” experience.
The mix seemed right; then something unusual happened.
Add a Dash of Crazy
In 2016 a reporter from GQ magazine decided to eat nothing but five pints of Halo Top every day for ten days. With a habit of using himself as a human guinea pig, the same reporter had previously lived off a drink called Soylent in order to “fact-check its founder’s health claims,” had eaten at 11 pizza places in one day to locate the best pizza in New York, and other stunts in the name of “research.”3
There was math behind his extended brain freeze: By consuming nothing but five pints of Halo Top daily, he’d get 120 grams of protein, along with 80 grams of carbohydrates and 60 grams of fat—at only 1,200 calories. “That’s pretty much a supermodel diet, but with enough protein to support my 3-times-a-week weight-training regimen,” he wrote.
The stats: 10 days, 50 pints of ice cream, lost nearly 10 pounds, added half an inch of muscle to his chest, and slimmed his waist by 1.5 inches.
Whether the article was part of a specifically targeted PR and marketing strategy we may never know, but Halo Top’s popularity skyrocketed. Their pints landed in every major grocery chain in the US, more than 19,000 stores, sold 50 million pints at last report, and beat out the leading brands. While Woolverton does have the GQ reporter to thank, he doesn’t recommend the all-ice-cream binge diet.
Halo Top has splashy, festive packaging and flavors Vanilla Bean, Birthday Cake, Lemon Cake, Chocolate Mocha Chip, Red Velvet, S’mores, Chocolate Almond Crunch, Pancakes & Waffles, and many others. The slogans “Stop when you hit the bottom” and “No bowl, no regrets” are emblazoned on each pint.4
Halo Top Creamery has 775K likes on Facebook and over 700K followers on Instagram.
Halo Top doesn’t look or feel like “diet ice cream,” something to begrudgingly consume when what you really want is “real” ice cream. Halo Top is marketed as fun ice cream that’s better for you than other brands, and its ardent fans keep going back.
Make no mistake; it’s not that ice cream is “healthy,” but it can be healthier than other brands and still be immensely popular, which Halo Top has proven. They’ve even had problems keeping up with demand, and the company’s valuation is estimated at $2 billion.
The "Magic" Ingredient
While having an excellent product is vital, Halo Top’s success could be summed up as correct targeting of a specific PUBLIC. In fact, their ad campaign has been published online and states: “The audience we are targeting are women 18–34 years old. Our target audience views ice cream as their favorite dessert. They also typically eat ice cream from just a few scoops to a half a pint in one sitting.”5
The campaign goes on to describe their target audience in detail, their demographics, how health conscious they are, what they look for in ice cream, how flavor dictates their purchase, and their likelihood to keep up with current trends.
Slate magazine offered its assessment of Halo Top’s popularity: “With its poppy, millennial-targeting packaging, Halo Top just doesn’t look like a diet ice cream. When you dig into a Halo Top pint, you imagine you’re part of a legion of fitness models indulging in a guilty pleasure, not one of countless Americans who struggle with weight.”6
Halo Top has demonstrated that by isolating your target public and delivering a product, message and aesthetic tailored to them, you can get exponential results. Will Halo Top’s current reign be a momentary blip on the ice-cream radar? Time will tell, but leading brands are now clamoring for their share with their own health-conscious pints.
Halo Top’s success doesn’t appear to be luck at all, but a well-crafted strategy aimed at the right public.
(1) “Spread the Word: Halo Top Creamery Is No. 5 on the Inc. 5000 This Year!” Inc.com. Mansueto Ventures, n.d.
(2) Wang, Kaitlyn. “How This Upstart Ice Cream Company Began Outselling Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs.” Inc.com. Mansueto Ventures, 16 Aug. 2017.
(3) Snow, Shane. “What It's Like to Eat Nothing but This Magical, Healthy Ice Cream for 10 Days.” GQ.com. Condé Nast, 28 Jan. 2016.
(4) “We’re Cold, Let’s Spoon.” HaloTop.com. Eden Creamery, n.d.
(5) Petri, McKenna. “Halo Top Ad Book.” LinkedIn SlideShare.net. LinkedIn Corporation, 15 Dec. 2015.
(6) Schwedel, Heather. “The Devilish Magic of Halo Top.” Slate.com. The Slate Group, 13 Aug. 2017.
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