By Bruce Winder
As my two Gen Z daughters and I walked into the Fantasy Fair section in Toronto’s Woodbine Centre mall to check out the promotional Baskin-Robbins shop turned Scoops Ahoy rebrand, the irony of the situation was not lost on me. Back in the mid–to- late 1980’s this mall was my hangout. I fondly remember late one summer Saturday evening when my buddy and I had a couple of wobbly pops at the bar on the first floor and proceeded to walk through the kids train tunnel. We tripped a few censors and were swiftly thrown out by the night security guard.
As you all know, the third season of Netflix’s wildly popular “Stranger Things” takes place in the mid 1980s, home to the new Starcourt mall in Hawkins, Indiana. One of the major locations in the series is the local ice cream hangout Scoops Ahoy, where Steve and Robin work. The mall also pays homage to a retro Gap, JC Penney, Orange Julius and many more retailers from that era.
The rebrand is a brilliant move on the part of Baskin-Robbins as it creates an excitement that is often lost in today’s retail environment. One could argue that “Stranger Things” is one of the hottest properties at this moment and connects with so many generations at once. The promotion mixes entertainment with bricks and mortar, which is an emerging trend. Although this rebrand is only temporary (runs from July 4th to July 16th) it catapults Baskin-Robbins from a sleepy legacy brand to one that is on point and topical. After all, the ice cream store business has changed a lot.
A few shops down from the former Baskin-Robbins is a Sweet Jesus location. Sweet Jesus is just one of the many new ice cream concepts that target Gen Z and millennials with exotic, premium, Instagram-worthy portions. For the moment anyway, the crowd was all around Scoops Ahoy and not its competitor. We even saw a family that had on their Stranger Things shirts and no doubt made this a planned Saturday afternoon adventure. Most of the customers spent as much time snapping photos as enjoying the ice cream. As one of only 2 Baskin-Robbins stores to rebrand during this time (the other is in Burbank, California) in which July is also national ice cream month, the promotion adds a flavour of exclusivity and sense of urgency that plays on the FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomenon.
Overall, the rebrand was nicely done within a reasonable budget. Overhead signage was changed as well as the look of the menu board. The menu was modified for the promotion to include a few special Stranger Things flavours and desserts such as: U.S.S Butterscotch Sundae, Byers’ House Lights Polar Pizza, Upside Down Pralines, Elevenade Freeze and a Demogorgon Sundae.
The only major disconnect I walked away with was, why Woodbine Centre? The Baskin-Robbins management team says they chose Woodbine because it felt very 80s. Although I have a personal affinity for the mall, sadly it has lost much of its lustre from over 30 years ago. More of a value mall, it offers a home to numerous tier 3 or 4 chains or independent start-ups. Compared to its rich cousin just a few minutes south, luxury CF Sherway Gardens, Woodbine Centre seems an odd place for such a high profile promotion. Maybe like the characters on Stranger Things, this 80s jewel is having a moment in the sun.
Bruce Winder is a retail expert, speaker, professor and entrepreneur. He has been interviewed dozens of times on main stream media such as BNN - Bloomberg, CBC, CTV News, CP24, Breakfast TV and more. Bruce has also been quoted hundreds of times in publications such as The Washington Post, BBC, The Globe & Mail, The Financial Post, The Toronto Star, Strategy, Adweek and many more. Bruce has 25 + years experience in big retail, manufacturing and consulting and holds an MBA from The Smith School of Business at Queen's University. He offers keynote, session and moderator services on topics such as: retail, e-commerce, online shopping, consumer trends, cannabis and Amazon.