Schweddy Balls – Clever Marketing or Comedic Failure?

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I’m not sure what most of you think of when you hear the phrase “schweddy balls”, but I know that for me, it’s not ice cream, let alone “Fair Trade vanilla ice cream with a hint of rum that’s loaded with fudge covered rum and milk chocolate malt balls.”  That’s the official description of Ben and Jerry’s latest limited flavor and I think it sounds…well – less than schweddy.

I’m not sure what the marketing team over at Ben and Jerry’s was thinking really.  I can’t imagine anyone’s palates salivating or digesting anything described as ‘sweaty’ or any variation thereof.  According to the company’s website, the new flavor is meant to be an ode to a Saturday Night Live skit which includes the recently-in-headlines Alec Baldwin (the skit can also be seen on the Ben & Jerry’s website).

The skit, I admit, is pretty hilarious – I won’t spoil it for you so you’ll just have to see for yourself, but I think what made the skit so funny is that it was clearly a parody on Holiday treats.  The folks over at SNL clearly weren’t going to go out and try to sell someone some popcorn or fudge Schweddy balls.  With this in mind, it’s interesting that a dessert production company would name their product after an unpleasant human attribute.  Kind of makes you wonder how Fuzzy Navels are so popular…

Apparently supermarkets in the U.S. didin’t find it that appetizing.  CBS news reports that several major grocery stores across the country have pulled all Schweddy Balls off their shelves, citing issues with vulgarity.  Much of this comes from the pressure from watchdog groups like the One Million Moms who created a petition to try to get the latest B & J flavor banned. One Million Moms is an offshoot of the American Family Association, an organization whose public abhorrence of the B&J flavor actually seemed to help fuel its popularity.

The more I think about it however, the more I am inclined to think that perhaps this was a brilliant marketing campaign.  It got thousands of us talking and spreading the word about the brand. After all, Scwheddy Balls is Ben & Jerry’s most popular limited flavor of all time with millions flocking to get their taste.

What do you think? Are you dying to get your serving of Schweddy Balls?  Maybe the idea has to marinate a bit…mentally that is.

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5 Responses to Schweddy Balls – Clever Marketing or Comedic Failure?

  1. Fred says:

    Is the concept a little off-color? Sure. But did it work? Absolutely. It got everyone to talk about this flavor specifically, and Ben and Jerry’s in general. I think their marketing team did a great job.

  2. Cortez says:

    Thanks Fred! I agree! Have you tried the flavor yet?

  3. Greg says:

    Ok, I’m not a blogger but, as I am in the marketing field, I felt the need to respond to this particular blog post. I would like to answer the headline question above with this; it is an epic, moral failure on the part of B&J. Before I get labeled as a prude, please note that I found the original S&L skit very funny at 11:30 PM in the evening several years ago.

    Here is my take on this for what it is worth. When companies use this sort of branding/marketing under the guise of ‘everyone is doing it, so let’s do it too’, ‘it’s all in fun’ and… ‘IT WILL GET US ATTENTION!’ they open the door to ‘moral relativism’ instead of holding true to what is just plain right and what is just plain wrong. Those with children, what will you say to your child when they ask “what does schweddy mean” or just plain, “what does that mean?” Will you lie to them? Will you tell them it is named after something it isn’t? No, I don’t have to buy that particular ice cream, but you don’t have to buy it for the children to see it and ask that question. The grocer will not put this particular ice cream in the glass freezer only after 11:30 pm at night.

    If B&J were looking for a target market for this particular flavor then it must have been a tiny apple on top of somebody’s head. Problem there is that, as in war, sometimes you miss and there is irreparable collateral damage.

    Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that I am, as I type, brining more ‘brand-awareness’ to B&J which may have been there target all along. That is why I call this a failure. It may have been a success for B&J in regards to ‘brand-awareness,’ but I feel it is just one more slide down the slippery slope of brand-awareness in the name of “it’s all in fun, grow up.”

    I know, I know, it’s a free country and we have free speech and all that. Who am I to tell anyone what they can say or do or not to. But it does not change the fact that right is right and wrong is wrong and we all have that written in our hearts in indelible ink. Every action or word we say is simply in the direction of either one of those. What about the ‘middle-ground’ some may ask? Stay out of the gray, that is bland and luke-warm, is it right or is it wrong? Is it success or is it failure?

  4. Tom says:

    B&J? Sweaty balls? What would Freud say? Find yourself some Graeters and nothing Ben and Jerry does will matter anymore.

  5. Apryl Hanson says:

    Greg –

    Thank you so much for your comments. It is certainly hard to see exactly which side wins in this debate. Just out of curiosity from this article last night while at the grocery store – I went to see what other flavors are being offered, and to check to make sure that Sweddy Balls was actually removed. There were a number of other flavors that could be found equally offensive.

    Here is a company whose culture is to be racy. The reason why we post articles like this is so that you can think about this in terms of your organization. In our next issue of Bellwether there is an article on CULTURE and how that sets the tone for your organization. I think this is a strategic decision that B&J has decided that their culture is one of pushing the envelope to sell their product. Other companies take a more personal approach by building loyalty among their customers to improve referrals.

    There are many ways to get it done, but looking at B&J as an example of augmented racy culture is an interesting view into how some companies operate – right or wrong. This company has continued to do things out of the box – in March 2009 they launched an advertising campaign for a product called “CyClone Dairy” with a website to promote its milk products, which apparently came exclusively from clones cows. On April 1’st they announced it was behind this fake website and that they created it to increase awareness of the presence of products from cloned animals within our food source in the U.S.
    Seems that B&J will always be on the edge, and a company that has decided that about their culture is not going to change. My question is – what is your culture at your organization and how is it different from what B&J’s does?

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