General Mills' global sweet spot

May 16, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

The food giant's key overseas brand isn't Cheerios. It's Häagen-Dazs. From Paris to Shanghai, it's all about prestige - and churning out growth.

By David A. Kaplan, contributor

FORTUNE -- This twentysomething woman really loves her ice cream -- or maybe she's just between boyfriends. Long brunette hair waving over her dark awaiting eyes, dressed in red chiffon, she's home alone with only a pint of vanilla. The rituals ensue. Her expectant polished lips purse, her hands caress the pint as condensation beads around the rim. With accompanying romantic strings, she speaks in alluring British not heard since Elizabeth II put the moves on Philip once upon a time: "781 heartbeats, 403 rapid breaths, 162 blinks of an eye." Oh my, please stop! No, please continue. The ice cream is "so rich it takes longer to soften into a blissful creaminess -- but the waiting only makes it sweeter." Finally she squeezes the pint to push the ice cream out the top and runs her index finger through the lusciousness, as she gently puts a dollop on her tongue and encircles it with her mouth. Then comes the tag line: "Anticipated like no other -- Häagen-Dazs."

Phew! This 30-second TV spot from General Mills (GIS) -- titled "Sensation," but described as ice cream "foreplay" by one executive -- will soon be airing around the world, the first commercial for Häagen-Dazs ever to play across national boundaries. (It will have different voice-overs to match languages -- including French, Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic -- and may be toned down in countries like China.) There'll be print advertising as well. Despite varying regional tastes and ice cream products, it's an effort to unite the brand's themes: "indulgence," "affordable luxury," and "intense sensuality," as an internal Brand Character Statement puts it. "While Häagen-Dazs can play on this sensuality in an adult, sophisticated, playful way," the statement explains, "it does so to persuade -- not to shock." Well, the Jolly Green Giant would surely be shocked. So, too, Betty Crocker -- you never saw her making any double-entendres about Betty Crocker Frosting Whipped Butter Cream. The chairman and CEO of General Mills, Ken Powell, loves the sultry Häagen-Dazs ad. "It is where the brand lives," he says. More

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