Late in 2012, my business partner Matthew Bailey came galloping up the stairs of my home with a brilliant idea he’d seen executed poorly but to great success on a recent holiday to Hong Kong. Stevie, he said. It will be easy.
I’ve learned to fear those four words. Nothing is ever as easy as you think, but they’re seductive those words, so I listened.
He’d seen a street vendor with a KitchenAid mixer using liquid nitrogen to freeze custard into ice cream. While the mixer did mad revolutions, an excited crowd looked on. It was an intoxicating image, with clouds of vapour, children waiting for ice cream and parents handing over cash. We can do this, he said. It will be easy.
OK, I thought. Why not? Sounds simple. What was it called? I asked him. Something, something lab, something something, he said. On went the light bulb in my head. We can do that better. So began the Nitrogenie project, an opportunity to apply some ad land skills on a business of my own.
My early research told me that liquid nitrogen ice cream wasn’t a new idea, that there were a few brands around the world exploring it already. It’s an idea born of science, so most of these early brands traded in the science of it or the temperature of it. They were called things like Lab Made or Ice Cream Lab or Sub Zero or N2.
I could see an immediate problem with all that laboratory imagery. Though it’s clean, it doesn’t exactly promise indulgence which is a key driver of the ice cream market. And it pushes you in the opposite direction to nature and natural, toward manmade and artificial. That is a definite no-no in food marketing. Taste appeal is a necessary pillar of any food brand, even a confectionary brand.
Liquid Nitrogen and the chemistry of its use was what made the ice cream unique, but the science wasn’t really what drew the crowds in. Especially not the kids. It was the vapour. It was the transformation that happened right before your eyes. It was the magic of it.
It wondered why nobody had yet registered the name Nitrogenie. It seemed a sitter for the new industry. It was the perfect merger of two concepts. Nitrogen and a genie, the magical being that could conjure up any wish. So we registered it. Happily.
Marketing is simple if you understand the disciplines. There are simple principles everyone should know. Don’t talk about the steak, describe the sizzle. Don’t tell them what you’re selling, describe the feeling of buying. These are basic rules I always apply and they always work. In the case of Nitrogenie, I wasn’t promoting liquid nitrogen ice cream, I was promising the magic of ice cream made using liquid nitrogen. Do you see the kicker? Magic.
The genie head with its flowing, vapour-like hair and mysterious mask became the icon of the brand, the typography was redesigned to flow in a creamy fashion and the promise of Ice Cream from Magic told the kids what was happening behind all that vapour. The brief to the designer was to create the Disney of ice cream brands. An animated character was a must.
Even the conventions of ice cream parlour design were turned on their head. Most parlours are white. Of course they are. Ice cream is a milky substance so that makes sense, but we weren’t selling ice cream. We were selling a vapour show and vapour shows so much better on a dark background.
Though the brand began in Australia, Nitrogenie has flourished overseas and exists now in its natural home, in the theme parks of the Merlin Group in the UK and Germany amongst the entertainment attractions of those venues, although some would say it’s an attraction in its own right. I’m pretty happy with that outcome.