Episode 55

Klondike Bars

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT.  I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’.  This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying. 

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip…Before the reveal I have a question for you?

Show Notes (click to expand)

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you feel as if you would do almost anything to get it?

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Who doesn’t love ice cream? After spending 7-years working at Godiva, I’ll go on record to say that if you don’t like chocolate or ice cream, you’re missing out on two of life’s simple pleasures. 

However, when you combine both into one decadent treat, it’s nearly impossible to keep from eating the whole box. This was my lived experience growing up eating Klondike Bars. I could never resist the square-shaped combination of chocolate and ice cream, perfectly wrapped in silver packaging featuring their iconic polar bear. 

What do we know about the origin of the Klondike bar?

For starters, Klondike bars were designed to be an “Adult” snack. That’s why you won’t find a stick in Klondike bars. The creator, Henry Isaly, thought frozen treats with a wooden handle were too kiddie. Since he was going after an older audience, he removed the stick and packaged the bars in a silver foil wrapper.

The Klondike bar was first introduced in the early 1920s. It takes its name from the Klondike River in Yukon, Canada, site of a major gold rush in the 1890s. Klondike suggests “cold” and bar alludes to “gold”, making the Klondike bar an ice-cold treasure. Though it was originally sold only in Pennsylvania and Ohio, by the late 1970s, distribution expanded along the East Coast before becoming widely available..

In 1982, the Klondike bar became a household name when the company launched a nation-wide advertising campaign asking a simple question, 

“What would you do for a Klondike bar?”

This Jingle was a total game-changer. The campaign asked adults what they would do in exchange for this tempting ice cream bar. Examples included doing something silly like:

Making monkey sounds.
Clucking like a chicken.
Acting out the children’s song “I’m a Little Teapot.” 
Playing “Patty Cake.”
Imitating a favorite superhero (For the record, mine is Superman).

A hairy man waxing his chest…now that deserves an OUCH!
One of my favorite commercials featured a fake Shakespeare being asked to do something silly, pen a TV sitcom for a Klondike Bar. The commercial ends with Shakespeare saying, “Enter precocious punk” and Gary Coleman appears with his classic line, “What you talkin’ ‘bout….Willie?”, a riff on his famous catchphrase.

Now I’m pretty sure that example will date me a bit, but “Different Strokes” was a hugely popular sitcom in the 80s and it was a brilliant move to feature Gary Coleman in this campaign!

Brands succeed when they break through in pop culture, and Klondike Bars succeeded in accomplishing this. People have done insane things to get their hands on a Klondike bar. Over the years, Klondike bars have been used as a humorous exchange for goofy dares or childish bargaining. For example, the statement “I would kill for a milkshake” could be followed up with, “Don’t be crazy, it’s not a Klondike bar.”

In that vein, Klondike bar jokes are more widespread on the internet than discussion of the ice cream bar itself. For example, alternate slogans appear on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and other novelty merchandise such as:

 “I’m ashamed of what I did for a Klondike bar” 


“I heard what you did for a Klondike bar. Call me.” 

Throughout the years, even as ownership of the Klondike brand has changed hands, the iconic marketing jingle proves it still has staying power. Commercials featuring the slogan are still being produced in the 21st century, and the question, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” is so recognizable that it has been parodied on Family Guy. Oh and there’s even a fun board game called, you guessed it, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” where players compete in creative challenges trying to collect all six Klondike bars.

So how far is too far for this creamy ice cream center and decadent chocolate coating? For some people, there’s absolutely no limit.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Klondike uses their ice cream bars to drive their Core Value of IRRESISTIBILITY.
So the next time you’re in the ice cream section of the supermarket, pick up that Klondike Bar package, then sing the jingle, “What you would do for a Klondike Bar” and remember this:


I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect.

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