What Retailers Can Learn From The Museum Of Ice Cream’s Sweet Success

Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

In an era where retailers are whipping up new strategies to get people inside stores and increase foot traffic, the Museum of Ice Cream mastered bringing in the crowds — with viral buzz as the cherry on top.

After all, creating memorable in-store experiences is one of seven key retail trends for 2018 (and beyond). That means inspiring your guests by creating stories for them, something the Museum of Ice Cream did with flying colors (millennial pink and “Gen-Z yellow,” to be exact).

If you didn’t get the chance to visit the Museum of Ice Cream during one of its stints, then you likely saw it on your Instagram feed.

Here’s the scoop: the Museum of Ice Cream (MoIC) is a pop-up art installation, where visitors can take a dip in a four-foot-deep cement pool filled with multicolored plastic sprinkles and take selfies with giant popsicle sculptures. It’s essentially a place to live out your Instagram dreams and take the social media pictures to prove it.

MoIC first opened its doors for 45 days in New York City in 2016 before heading to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and then Miami Beach (each for a limited duration).

With a tagline like “Anything is possible,” the Museum of Ice Cream is proof that a pop-up can generate the kind of buzz that has A-Listers like Gwyneth Paltrow, Katy Perry, and the Carters talking (Beyoncé and Jay-Z famously visited the L.A. location with daughter Blue Ivy in 2017).

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A Recipe For Success

MoIC is the brainchild of Laguna Beach, California, native Maryellis Bunn, who studied both business and design in college and formerly worked as head of innovation at Time Inc. She knew that companies needed to do more to stand out. So, Bunn teamed up with Manish Vora, owner of Lightbox, an event space in New York, to make Museum of Ice Cream magic. Bunn and Vora never could’ve predicted the level of sweet success it experienced, as a cultural phenomenon and disrupter. (The term “disrupter” is no exaggeration: Bunn has seen daily emails of new MoIC “inspired” businesses, as brands are looking for ways to be “the next” Museum of Ice Cream.)

Here are some numbers, at a glance:

  • The Museum of Ice Cream’s Instagram account (@museumoficecream) currently has more than 400K followers.
  • There are over 168K Instagram posts associated with the #MuseumOfIceCream hashtag.
  • Tickets sold out for Manhattan's original Museum of Ice Cream (according to a CNBC article, this translated to 30K tickets), leaving 200,000 people waitlisted.

If you’re wondering why Bunn decided to focus on food, and specifically ice cream, she explains this in the CNBC article: "Food is a language which we all understand. When you have something as simple as ice cream, it's something that's really happy and it brings people together in a way that's unexpected."

From Experiential Event To Actual Pint Shop

The Pint Shop, Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

Image: The Museum of Ice Cream

The Museum of Ice Cream’s success didn’t melt away: the next iteration of the Museum of Ice Cream is something visitors can actually take home with them. This summer, Bunn and Vora launched a line of ice cream called The Pint Shop, available at the pop-up New York City installation of the same name, and in Target stores across the United States.

The Pint Shop, which is free, open to the public and sponsored by Target, opened its doors in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District in June and is an interactive grocery shopping destination, complete with immersive installations, a paid reservation-based tasting experience called Tasting Room, and all seven flavors of Pint Shop ice cream. With flavors and names like Sprinkle Pool, Piñata, and Churo Churo, the Museum of Ice Cream has created a line of pints that speak to its signature values of creativity and play. Within its first week of opening, @thepintshop accumulated more than 14,000 Instagram followers.

I spoke with MoIC’s Founder and Creative Director, Maryellis Bunn, to learn more about branding, buzz, and what it means to retailers.

Shopify: What was the idea behind creating the Museum of Ice Cream?

Maryellis Bunn, the Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

Image: The Museum of Ice Cream

Bunn: We pride ourselves on creating a safe environment for visitors to embrace their imagination and creativity. We build environments where people can check their fears, anxieties and social norms at the door and have a lot of fun, first and foremost! Our hope is that the spaces you explore at MoIC allow you to create meaningful and impactful human connections with other guests and with our #teammoic staff.

We hope that in a world which is becoming increasingly disconnected on account of technology, we play a small role in not only creating incredible memories but even fostering new relationships.

FUN FACT: MoIC is actually also an acronym for "movement of imagination and creativity.”

Shopify: The buzz has been epic ever since you launched the first installation in New York City in 2016, and then, of course, followed up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami, and now back in NYC with The Pint Shop. What were some of the key elements of your strategy to maintain this buzz?

MoIC is extremely accessible (a ticket to the L.A. location was $29), inclusive, and built for a modern lifestyle. MoIC is something you can experience on an afternoon or in the morning, rather than having to set aside a full day. We serve to ignite creativity and imagination through our interactive installations.

Shopify: Social media sharing is a critical part of MoIC's viral success as a phenomenon. What role did social media play in the launch strategy of MoIC (before opening) and throughout its duration?

The Pint Shop, Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

Image: The Museum of Ice Cream

It’s not as if I have a single work that hangs on a wall that one can admire, contemplate, and perhaps share. We create everything, from our website and installations to our trash cans and retail packing.

My goal is to design for the feeling, not for the photograph.

Shopify: I love how you sold partnership opportunities to brands like Dove chocolates and Tinder, rather than sell them digital ad space. Why did you believe integrating them into the MoIC experience would add more value to the participating brands?

(Inside Scoop: What did the Dove partnership look like? Every MoIC visitor in L.A. was presented with a Dove chocolate, and in a “Willy Wonka” twist, those who got one with a gold wrapper won a box of chocolates. Bunn explains in a Forbes interview that “Dove saw a 9% increase in sales in the one month they were open there.” As for the Tinder sponsorship, the dating app created a questionnaire for visitors to fill out, which yielded guests’ ice cream profiles.)

Working with brands like the Platinum Card from American Express and most recently with Target [Target sponsored Museum of Ice Cream’s The Pint Shop] have been true partnerships. We touch so many elements of each of the companies that the integration of our brands becomes symbiotic. With Target, I collaborated with their designers on the kids’ apparel “Art Class” collection and we learned a lot from one another. Launching our ice cream that we have been working on from the day we started two years ago has also been an amazing challenge, but Target has given us the platform to bring our product to nearly every major market in America.

Shopify: With "The Pint Shop by Museum of Ice Cream," you’re leveraging immersive installations and an interactive grocery store experience to debut the Museum of Ice Cream’s very own ice cream line. Why was this launch strategy important?

Maryellis Bunn and Manish Vora, Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

Image: The Museum of Ice Cream

Every single aspect of our brand, from the installations to the product and even the ice cream, is a cohesive experience. When a visitor takes part of our experience home with them, they’ll be able to see the direct synergy between our product line and brand identity.

Shopify: How do you feel about influencers as a component of building buzz? How do you do it in an authentic way?

Everyone is an influencer to someone so if you create authentic experiences that people love. Your fans and your community will do the heavy lifting for you.

Shopify: What advice would you give to brands who want to open a pop-up installation or experiential activation to build their brand love?

The experience has to be true to your brand. We have now seen dozens of agencies pitching brands that they will create a Museum of Ice Cream for their brands. We do not build activations, we are building a brand and we are building an experience. So, our advice is to connect with your community and customers in real ways that make sense for your brand instead of running to the hottest trend. Yesterday was VR, today is experience, tomorrow, who knows?

Spilling Trade Secrets: The Recap

1. Create experiences, not activations

The Pint Shop, Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

Image: The Museum of Ice Cream

This famous quote from Maya Angelou says it best: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

So, when thinking about building a pop-up, a contest, promotion, or any strategy to align with your retail concept, focus on the experience. That’s what will lead people to share the story on social media or with friends.

Doug Stephens, founder of The Retail Prophet, focused on the importance of experiences and stories at VOICES, the trailblazing fashion industry conference held by The Business of Fashion: “Stores can’t be just about distributing products. They need to be about distributing experiences: fewer stores, more stories.”

That means putting more emphasis on entertainment, hospitality (more on this below) and community.

2. Be authentic and consider everyone an “influencer”

Speaking of community, social media has democratized the notion of influencers. So, don’t focus on how many Instagram followers someone has — instead, recognize that every single person who comes into contact with your brand, your product, and your brand’s entire experience is someone who can positively or negatively influence your brand.

Focusing too much on an influencer strategy can come across as inauthentic: put your energy into creating the “wow” factor so that everyone can contribute to the level of buzz you create.

3. It’s about connection and human interaction with other people and your on-location staff

Part of the experience and the emotion inherent to the Museum of Ice Cream’s success is based on connecting with people in real life, especially in our highly disconnected times. This is MoIC’s mission: for guests to have meaningful and impactful human connections with other guests and the #teammoic staff.

As a result, team members are as cheerful as the brand, outgoing and friendly, and engage with visitors by encouraging them to dive into the experience, let go and have fun.

4. Stay cohesive, from the space to what’s in your shop(s)

This is something that needs to come from your brand DNA, which informs all marketing decisions that follow (everything from the color palette to the fonts you use). It’s also critical that your on-location staff is on-boarded with the brand guidelines to keep the experience consistent on all fronts.

So, with some imagination and out-of-the box (or shall we say, pint) thinking, anything is indeed possible.