How Magnum became the 'it' ice cream

By Vladimir Bunoan,

Posted at Oct 16 2012 03:40 PM | Updated as of Oct 18 2012 01:37 AM

Unilever RFM Ice Cream Inc. chief executive officer and managing director John Concepcion

MANILA, Philippines – Just days after the launch of Magnum ice cream in the Philippines early this year, the newest product of Unilever RFM Ice Cream Inc. quickly sold out.

“I knew it would do well but I didn't know it would do this well,” the company’s chief executive officer and managing director John Concepcion told in an interview.

“Magnum is a huge success. It's a big brand in Unilever and we expect that to continue,” he added.

So how did Magnum become an ice cream phenomenon? Concepcion attributed it to the “power of social media.”

When Magnum was introduced in late February, it enlisted celebrity stylist Liz Uy, fashion designer Rajo Laurel and TV host Raymond Gutierrez as brand ambassadors, who took to their social media accounts to tease about the product.

During its press launch on February 28, other celebrities, as well as netizens immediately welcomed the news, with Magnum becoming a top trending topic on microblogging site Twitter.

“My favorite ice cream when I was living in Istanbul. Yummy!” tweeted actress Ruffa Gutierrez that day.

According to Concepcion, most multinationals embark on a tri-media advertising campaign – television, radio and print – to launch a product. But that wasn’t the case with Magnum.

“What we did here, you normally want to let it percolate first. You don't want to go tri-media right away. You want to let people talk about it and give testimonies about it. And then when you hit the right time, you go tri-media,” he explained.

“You have to let people discover that (product first). So we had a press launch, and then we had this huge big launch in an event in Makati. What we did there I wanted to have an Oscar night, the longest red carpet that you can find. We had 200 photographers, press. We had celebrities coming in. We had one of the best shows that we ever did and it became the talk of the town. From there, people started tweeting right there, and the following day, ubos na ‘yung stock.

“And then after that, we said we don't come out with TV right away. Let people talk about it. Give it about two weeks for them to experience it and talk about it, and then we go,” he said.

Right pricing

Concepcion also credited Magnum’s pricing for its success. “I felt the right sweet spot for that is P50,” he said, noting that Haagen Dazs was selling its ice cream bars for P200.

Yet despite this, some netizens criticized Magnum for being expensive – a perception Concepcion disagrees with.

“You've got this tea here selling for P120. You've got Starbucks coffee for P120. You've got Haagen Dazs selling for P200 for even a cup,” he said. “We don't want to make it cheap-cheap but we want to make it affordable at the same time. That's marketing. I think that's the sweet spot for the product. I think it would be different if I sold it for P99. Then that's a small market.”

His instincts proved to be correct. “It basically brought up the stock price of RFM with that innovation alone. That's how big it is,” he noted.

Keep it cool

So how will Magnum maintain its growth momentum?

“Food is now becoming like fashion. It's a lifestyle brand, so you've got to keep it cool, you've got to keep it in,” Concepcion, who has spent 22 years with Selecta, said.

“First and foremost, your products have to be good. You've got to have a range of new products coming in. Then you've got to find a way to market your product. Social media is a big part of Magnum. We used a lot of brand ambassadors there. We did some big launches. So continue that and continue to build it as a lifestyle brand and make it cool,” he expounded.

Magnum recently came up with its latest variant Choco Cappuccino, adding to the three flavors during its launch (Classic, Almond and Chocolate Truffle). And Concepcion promised that there will be more.

“You’ll see a lot of exciting innovations in the months and years to come. If you travel in Europe and you see the products there being sold, there are so many,” he said.

More than 20 variants of Magnum have been introduced around the world since 1989. Indonesia, for instance, carries eight flavors, including Chocolate and Strawberry. Singapore, meanwhile, also sells eight variant, including Double Caramel.

With 80% market share, Concepcion said Unilever RFM Ice Cream has shifted its focus from “grabbing” market share to increasing consumption.

“You have to think how do I get more people to eat ice cream. It's trying to increase frequency and penetration, which is what we've been trying to do,” he said.

So what is the company going to do next?

Concepcion merely confirmed that there are products in the pipeline.

“Ben and Jerry's is a Unilever brand. So one day I can bring that in but not now,’ he said. “I always believe in doing one thing at a time.”