Häagen-Dazs is a Danish word, right? Or at least a Scandinavian one. It has something to do with ice cream, or cold, or deliciousness, right? Wrong. Häagen-Dazs is a nonsense word that, although it sounds Scandinavian, at least to English speakers, it resembles no actual word in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, or German.
Häagen-Dazs ice cream is not made in Scandinavia and never was. The company began in New York. The word is made up and was meant, presumably, to sound Danish, so as to call to mind Denmark, which the founder believed would have a positive image in the U.S., and, perhaps, call to mind cool, icy slopes and fresh snow. The word has no meaning in any language.
Häagen-Dazs was started by Reuben Mattus, a Polish immigrant to New York who sold fruit ice and ice cream from a horse-drawn cart with his mother in the Bronx. Later, they began making ice cream and selling it to local grocery stores. They were successful until large national brands like Breyers and Borden squeezed local producers out of the market. Mattus thought that these large ice cream makers were compromising quality for low cost. He believed there was a place in the market for an extremely rich high-quality ice cream, and that perhaps customers would be willing to pay more for a top-notch ice cream.
In 1960, Mattus formed an ice cream making company making three basic flavors – vanilla, chocolate, and coffee sold in pint cartons around Manhattan. The ice cream had less air mixed into it and a very high butterfat content compared to the national brands and was made only from basic ingredients without additives. His wife, the story goes, came up with the name Häagen-Dazs.
Needless to say, the company was successful. In fact, they were so successful that imitators sprang up who also used made up foreign-sounding Scandinavian/German sounding names, such as Frusen Glädjé, which was started by Richie Smith, and ice cream maker and distributor of Dolly Madison ice cream. Häagen-Dazs actually filed suit against this company, claiming that Frusen Glädjé infringed on its “Unique Scandinavian marketing them,” seeking injunction against the use of the name on the containers. It is true that Frusen Glädjé had followed the Häagen-Dazs theme fairly closely, even using an umlaut over the letter ‘A’ and putting a map of Scandinavia on their containers. But the court, logically, decided that a company could not hold a trademark on a “unique Scandinavian marketing theme, and that they only held a trademark on the name Häagen-Dazs. The court said that despite the similarities in marketing, the names were clearly distinguishable and the packages were not likely to be mistaken for one another.
Many have made a lot out of everything about Häagen-Dazs being fabricated. The company and its ice cream is compared to Ben & Jerry’s, a company that is as authentic as it can be, given that Ben and Jerry are the names of the founders, and their picture is even on each container. And given Pillsbury’s, who owned Häagen-Dazs when Ben & Jerry’s came on the market (Nestlé owns it now), tried to stop Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from sharing shelf space with Häagen-Dazs cartons, it’s no wonder. Nobody likes a bully, and the underdog came out on top, in a big way. However, before you get to down on Häagen-Dazs’s original founders for being disingenuous, consider that many of today’s food and beverage products, as well as any other products or services, have made up names with no actual meaning.
When brands are launched, naming firms, which specialize in the “art and science” of creating product or company names, take great care in coming up with just the right name, that will roll off your tongue and be easy to remember, and to spell. And, if it happens to be a completely made-up term, all the better. Evan Morris in From Altoids to Zima: The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names, gives six criteria for a successful name, as generally accepted in the naming industry:
- It must be simple.
- It must be easy to remember.
- It must be impossible to mispronounce.
- It must not infringe on an existing trademark.
- It must not have a negative connotation in English.
- It must not mean anything nasty in another language.
Given all this, do you think Häagen-Dazs would have been accepted by a naming firm?
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