A Ghouling Trend in Marketing: Prank Advertising

Prank Advertising

In a New York City coffee shop, a horror-inspired prank gave customers more of a jolt than they expected.  A marketing stunt promoting the horror movie remake of “Carrie” used a fake wall, remote-controlled tables and chairs and spring-loaded bookshelves.  The people behind the stunt used the props to make it appear as though a patron was using telekinesis after someone knocked over her coffee.  A hidden camera captures it all, and the resulting video has more than 3 million YouTube views so far.

Officials in a small Pennsylvania township have told organizers of the “Naked and Scared” haunted house challenge to keep their pants on.  According to Shocktoberfest owner Patrick Konopelski, he has been notified that he is not allowed to have customers participate in a naked walk-through of his haunted house.   Konopelski is offering a “Naked and Scared” tour of his haunted house in Sinking Spring, Pa. The tour was intended to scare people by putting them in a vulnerable position, where they would not be protected by anything.

This continued trend in “pranking and shock marketing” follows LG’s attempt to demonstrate the superiority of their new High Definition Television by pranking unsuspecting job applicants, an ad that some feel, “does a stunning job selling the quality of LG IPS monitors.”   Utilizing “pranking” as a tool to gain attention and inspire potential customers to act favorably, by making a product or service purchase, is sparking renewed debate among some marketing professionals over the effectiveness and appropriateness of such tactics.  Does this type of “Candid Camera”  and “shock sells” advertising move consumers to make a purchase or does it merely provide entertaining or embarrassing, depending upon your perspective, YouTube videos?  And does the effort create a positive impression in the mind of consumers for the marketer’s brand?  One could argue that the millions of YouTube views of the videos are proof that viewers are paying attention to the antics, but are they being motivated to pay attention to the features and benefits of the product or service being pitched and gravitating towards a purchase decision?

In this competitive business environment and ever expanding digital and technologically advancing media opportunities, marketers certainly must investigate and pursue creative methods to inspire and motivate consumers to act.  Socially accepted norms are changing in-step with the rapid advances in communication technology, making it clear that what was “taboo” and “ineffective” marketing antics in the past is being reevaluated in today’s board rooms.  But with the implementation of such “out of the box” advertising methods come some risks to those who embark on testing the established marketing boundaries.

Recently news broke that Ms. Duick, an unknowing participant, who was punked in a 2008 Toyota advertising “stalking” campaign, is getting to execute her own punking on Toyota and their advertising agency after a California court agreed she could proceed with a $10-million (U.S.) lawsuit against Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi L.A., the agency behind the campaign, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, false advertising, and other misdeeds. She alleged that the “stalking” caused her difficulty in eating and sleeping, and prevented her from going to work.   The advertising industry is left mulling whether the trend toward engaging audiences in games and other interactive experiences that push the envelope might carry unforeseen risks.

“The trend in marketing is to get people more engaged, getting people to do things rather than just think things,” notes Dré Labre, a creative director with the agency Rethink Toronto. “So ideas tend to start going into the world of punking or alternate-reality gaming and exploring these types of things.  We need to take into consideration as advertising agencies that people hate advertising,” continues Mr. Labre. “We need to make it likeable, and being punked doesn’t sound like something that would make me like you.”

Taking creative risks can reap huge benefits or expensive and embarrassing results.  It’s important for marketing professionals to think through the decision before embarking on risky or bold ventures in advertising.  Performing careful due-diligence will often determine whether the results produce accolades or fiasco.

From the Dick Tracy Collection, Wearable Technology

Dick Tracy, a hard-hitting, fast-shooting and intelligent police detective made his debut in October 4, 1931 as the main character in what was to become a legendary comic strip named for the crime fighting hero.  Created by Chester Gould, the strip made its debut in the Detroit Mirror and went on to be distributed by the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate.  Generations of fans grew up on the heroic crime fighting stories from the man dressed in baggy, double-breasted suits, bright yellow, a wide brimmed hat and sporty, fully functional, two- way, wrist radio.  Calling headquarters, or summing back-up, through the use of his trusty wireless wrist-mounted phone became a recurring signature move which was punctuated by a raised wrist to mouth posture.  Early on few of us ever envisioned such a device becoming a working toy much less a common everyday tool as it is today.  But that all changed in 1969 with one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.

Last month, Samsung, became the first entry in the Smartwatch space with its introduction of Galaxy Gear wearable.  Though the early models are still relatively substantial in size, Samsung chief JK Shin announced, “ I believe it will become a new fashion icon around the world.”  The device allows users to make and receive calls, notify people about their SMS updates, and snap photos when connected to a Samsung mobile companion device.  The Gear will become compatible with a swathe of its existing handsets via two updates: the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update, and a separate update due to start rolling out globally soon.  The once fantasy, two-way wrist watch radio of the Dick Tracy error is now officially a reality.

The new mobile, wearable devices have garnered a new moniker, “wearable technology”, a category of high tech accessories that will permit avid technology users the opportunity to make a 21st century fashion-wear statement and is expected to include a full menu of electronic jewelry and fashion accessories.  Nike recently revealed a new version of its FuelBand.  Dubbed the FuelBand SE, the new fitness tracker is available in a variety of color accents and represents the sporting goods maker’s first non-cosmetic update to its activity tracking wearable since the gadget’s introduction.  The FuelBand is a wearable wristband that provides users with a visual readout of their steps taken during the course of a day, and also offers up a ‘Fuel’ tally, which is a metric made up by Nike that calculates based on your activity level through things like walking, running, paying basketball and more.

The new hardware is sealed and waterproofed, making it usable in the shower, and it’s got a highly refined motion detection algorithm. There are regular reminders (once hourly) to prompt you to get up and stop being so lazy, and there’s a new shortcut to let you double tap the button to access time. It uses Bluetooth 4.0, too, which should make it easier to sync data and provide a bit of a battery boost. There’s also a brand new app redesign to do along with it, with more granular and informative charts and graphs related to activity data. A new Fuel-per-minute metric offers a look at your average intensity, rather than just cumulative activity totals.  Is it even remotely possible that the futurist minded hero, Dick Tracy, could have envisioned such an array of advanced technology?

The new smaller more powerful, wearable personal computers not only offer endless opportunities for consumers to collect detailed data and connect more effortlessly to the world through the internet, but also provides’ greater opportunities for internet marketers to connect more personally with consumers and collect enhanced, real-time user data which can be used by businesses to determine consumers day to day patterns and online behaviors.  Technology continues to evolve, getting smaller, faster, cheaper, smarter and more powerful with each generation.

Such hi-tech gadget introductions beg the question, what’s to be next out of the sci-fi past, beam me up Scotty?  Hang on Dr. Spock!

Taking Aim at the Modern Farmer


Carving up the marketplace into individualized bites is nothing new and experienced marketers will be quick to advance the benefits of niche marketing to selling everything from grapes to baby grand pianos.  It is a successful strategy often employed by internet dating sites where lonely hearts can find companionship with other lonely hearts from across the dating spectrum including, teens, twenty-some things, thirty-some things, over the hillers, second-timers (if first you don’t succeed) and even the farmers daughter.  And the publishing industry is not to be left out of its share of target practice.

Modern Farmer, which began publication earlier this year, is trying to benefit from the first signs of growth in the total number of farms since World War II and the farm-to-table food trend that has fueled growth for farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture. That means the magazine has attracted readers who include an Amish farmer and vegetable supplier to Whole Foods, Brooklyn rooftop farmers harvesting kale and broccoli and myriad young farmers going back to the land.  The magazine, which offers advice on building a corn maze and articles on the effect of climate change on lettuce and oysters, is trying to carve out a new niche on the newsstand. It edges into the food magazine sphere with luminous photography of vegetables, while articles report on straight agricultural topics more often found in farming publications like the 111-year-old Successful Farming.

Ann Marie Gardner, the founder and editor in chief, conceived the idea for a magazine in 2011 after she noticed that sources she interviewed for Monocle magazine seemed preoccupied by agricultural issues. The magazine has attracted a global following with the first print edition being sold in Britain, Germany and Australia as well as in the United States, and went on to sell 35,000 first issue copies on newsstands and 13,000 by subscriptions.  The magazine has also attracted surprising financial support from advertisers eager to sell trucks, tractors, organic wine and work clothes to young “Green Acres” farmers who romanticize about farm life and want to connect to their brethren who are knee deep in the manure of the business.  Modern Farmer is the perfect vehicle to get to the growing band of want to be “hobby farmers.”  Oliver and Lisa Douglas would sure to be proud, avid readers.

Ms. Gardner may find that some of her biggest critics are not battle-hardened media types, but farmers. Allan Van Tassel, an 83-year-old lifelong farmer who is Ms. Gardner’s neighbor, tells her regularly that the magazine does not have a chance of survival and she does not discredit the perils of either publishing or farming. While Modern Farmer slowly and steadily progressed through its first year, a windstorm wiped out her entire crop of pears and this year, as she has logged long hours making Modern Farmer a success, her own garden became overgrown. Eventually, she placed her trust in a professional and brought in an experienced farmer to help.

LG’s Theater of Fear Marketing

LG's TV Prank

If you are a leading hi-tech audio video manufacturer wanting to demonstrate the superiority of your latest products video and audio capabilities, the process can be real challenging.  The problem becomes apparent when attempting to demonstrate that super video format or surround quality when the new technology must be demonstrated to consumers on a competitor’s inferior equipment.  So what to do when confronted with this conundrum?  In the case of the electronics giant LG, they weren’t above scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting viewers to make their point   The electronics giant took to Chile recently to shoot a hidden-camera prank commercial.  LG marketers replaced the window in an office of a high-rise building with one of its Ultra HD TVs, Ultra HD TVs, or 4K TVs as some call them, are supposed to offer a clearer image than any other types of TV currently on the market. The sets offer a resolution four times greater than that of regular HD TVs.  LG’s “prank ad” went viral on YouTube just hours after its release.

LG's Prankvertising

In the video, unsuspecting job seekers walk into the outfitted room for a job interview and sit across from the fake window in front of an actor who is playing a potential employer. All the while, the Ultra HD TV window displays a city skyline.  But in the middle of the interview, a bright light starts to shine out of the top left corner of the TV, and, slowly, a meteor creeps into view.  The job seekers try to keep calm as long as possible, but eventually they all freak out and take cover on the floor, behind a desk as certain life ending consequences approach from beyond the “fake” window.  After the lights come back up and the simulated dust settles it becomes obvious, from the reaction of the pranked, that they are genuinely scared, nearly to death by some accounts. Also evident is the fact that the victims and viewers of the ad will never forget their experience with LG’s new technology, positive or negative.

It’s not the first time that LG marketing executives have resorted to sensational scare tactics to promote one of their product offerings.  Recently the Brazilian hidden camera show “Programa Silvio Santos” aired clips of people screaming in terror at a ghostly girl in a broken elevator. The video was posted to YouTube, where it quickly garnered more than 7 million views and last October, in yet another prank, LG created an elevator floor out of computer monitors. When someone got on the elevator, the monitors made it look like the elevator floor was collapsing underneath the person’s feet. Hidden cameras caught it all, and the video went on to receive more than 15 million views.

LG's Elevator Prank

If the “view” counts equates to success than the commercials will be judged to be very successful.  However, if the terrifying, negative experience of the prospective consumers, turned LG victims, outweighs the products benefits LG may see their antics turn negative, very negative, over time.

To some well-experienced marketers, LG’s tactics may be seen as a cheap prank to divert potential customer’s attention and focus away from the real features, benefits and performance of new “superior” technology into a sort of high browed, “slight-of- hand”, theater.  In the end LG may find that the last laugh may be on them if their penchant to create fear and mayhem on unsuspecting consumers exceeds their perceived skills and reputation for successfully marketing superior electronic devises.  Consumers may be scared into buying a gas mask on the eve of Armageddon, but how many of us will really be frightened into buying our next television?

Mobile Application Marketability: Shiny, New is No Longer Enough

Mobile Apps

Mobile technology device users have said it countless times over. “There is an app for everything.”  And of course they are all correct.  The mobile application world has evolved into a market of 1,500,000 apps and includes every conceivable use from coupons to cardiac monitoring and beyond.  ABI Research predicts that mobile app revenue will reach $46 billion by 2016, up from about $8.5 billion in 2011.  In such a crowded marketplace it is vital for want-to-be app developers to realize that it is not nearly enough to just create an app and post it in an app store to achieve successful distribution.

Today’s app stores visually resemble a digital replication of the most comprehensive of depositories of the world’s collection of written words.  It is like standing in the center of the most inclusive of libraries, looking at the millions of volumes of books, seeking to find one topic among tens of thousands, reveal relevance among all the irrelevant and to discover the one true masterpiece amidst the masses of tripe.

Being truly original to topic or category will give a new app a “one-up” on all the others, but in such a saturated market it is difficult to come up with an entirely new idea or category. No matter the premise or use, chances are it already exists, so to succeed with another version of an existing app will require focus on what the competitors’ product is missing or how can it be improved.  The issue of usability of mobile phone apps still looms large. There are yet no clear developer guidelines on app usability and the diversity among different mobile models makes it difficult to define a “standard” for the usability factor.

Understanding and identifying existing app shortcomings will require a developer to evaluate “hard” app functions such as; screen resolution, colors and contrast, button functions, font size and style, cursors and keyboards across the vast array of devices.  According to Compuware, about 85% of global mobile device owners surveyed stated that they prefer to use a mobile app that fills their wants and needs of convenience, efficiency, and overall ease of use.  Clearly, the origin of success in today’s app marketplace begins at the beginning of the engineering process, by designing-in uniqueness, features, functions and user benefits that will differentiate a prospective offering from the established field of performers.  Get it right from the start, design-in marketability before the app reaches the marketplace.

The price of apps has a marked effect on consumer demand and app store engagement, and is essential to securing strong visibility, sustained popularity, and continued user engagement. Free and “freemium” apps tend to draw in the lion’s share of app downloads and revenue. Free apps represented 71% of total iPhone App Store revenue for February 2013.  Getting consumers to “pay” in a virtual universe of “free” is a very tall order and one that can only be filled through a properly planned and executed business model and marketing strategy, formulated to work among the masses.

A successful strategy will include elements of market analysis, integrated social media, mobile display, burst  advertising, monetary strategies and the new “big thing” in app marketing; App Store Optimization (ASO).  It’s obviously no longer enough to be the shiny new app in the store and get a few write-ups in the tech press.

Luxury Brands Take the High Road in a Slow Economy

Luxury Brands

Luxury brands, those goods and services that are not considered essential and are associated with affluence, have been present in various forms since the beginning of commercial civilization.  “Luxury goods” status is generally attained due to a products design, quality, durability or performance that is remarkably superior to the comparable substitutes and is represented in virtually every category of goods available on the market today.  Luxury brands are synonymous with quality, status and sex appeal and despite the economic downturn, quality brands is a niche segment that continues to flourish.

Sales at Tiffany & Company are up 35.85% year-to-date while Walmart is up just 10.8% in comparison.  Burberry Group on the London Stock Exchange is up over 11%.  Bain forecasts global luxury goods sales would rise at a compound annual growth rate of 5% to 6%between 2013 and 2015 at constant exchange rates.  The total size of the market was $273 billion in 2012 and Bain thinks it could reach $290 billion by 2015.   China will account for about 20 percent of global luxury sales in 2015, according to new McKinsey research.  Shifting attitudes toward the display of wealth, rapidly rising incomes and widely available luxury products is resulting in more Chinese consumers than ever to feel comfortable about buying luxury goods.

Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH ) announced its first quarter revenues, revealing a 25% surge powered by the company’s fashion and leather goods division. Meanwhile, shares of mid-range retailers, including Macy’s, Dillard’s and Kohl’s, have been climbing steadily recently. Macy’s is near a 52-week high, almost doubling in the past year; Dillard’s stock is up nearly 50 percent.  Classic Americana designer Michael Kors, who specializes in luxury accessories and ready-to-wear, had an initial public offering that valued the company at a whopping $3.63 billion.  So what strategic factors seem to be leading these fashion brands towards success?

The Internet has fundamentally transformed the way luxury brands market their products.  While they may have been fashionably late to the party, luxury brands all over the world are embracing the visual, social and interactive tools that digital media provides to identify and interact more closely with their consumers, generate positive word of mouth, and launch their next limited editions.  In addition, E-Commerce is providing a new and untapped channel for premium products.  “Luxury marketers are really leading the way for marketers across categories, from consumer goods to big box retail, luxury brands are responding to the booming consumer trends with a significant shift in focus toward digital media,” said Kelly Hushin, author of the study and Digital Content Manager for Worldwide Business Research, parent company of the Luxury Interactive conference.  “With affluent customers more likely to own smartphones and tablets and shop online across each, marketers are looking for more and more ways to effectively reach new and existing customers interested in luxury brands.”

THE OUTNET, the UK-based website was established on the pillars of distinctiveness and exceptional design and has developed a solid following of fashion-savvy customers with an average household income of over $175,000.  They are able to maintain a loyal customer base not only because of its stylish offerings, but also because of a strategic web design.  Managing Director of THE OUTNET, Stephanie Phair, attributes the company’s early and sustainable success to a marketing strategy designed to ensure they are providing a seamless shopping experience across all devices.  The OUTNET is currently concentrating on optimizing their site for mobile, and creating their StyleCred app for the iPhone where a user can create and share fashion looks and earn store credit.   Creating a robust and creative mobile devise and tablet experience is essential to success in a market where most fashion-conscious consumers browse and shop digitally.

In an industry where customers’ perceptions drive everything, one false step and the fall from the “Tech-savvy Shoppers’ List” can be swift and brutal in this competitive environment.  Luxury products like clothes, handbags, shoes, and jewelry, might be well made, but they’re not difficult to make. The success of the business rests on keeping shoppers convinced that the brand name alone is worth paying extra for.  The first rule is to listen to the marketplace, with a focus on what the consumers want but aren’t getting from other competitors. Customers naturally gravitate to marketers who deliver on what established competitors either cannot or will not deliver.  Catering to a competitor’s weakness is opening the door of opportunity to skilled marketers and entrepreneurs.

Advertising on Toilet Paper… Too Close for Comfort?

Star Toilet Paper

For more than a half a century marketers of everything from toiletries to trash cans have used sexy messages to sell their wares and brands to an often, ad over-exposed consumer.  Through the century advertising vehicles of choice have included every conceivable media and arena such as; billboards, television, radio, newsprint, magazines, direct mail, coupon books, message boards, bulletin boards and placemats.  Today’s communication technology has exploded into digital media; the internet, email, social media and mobile applications. In a world where it is said that nothing is finished until the paper work is done, the ultimate in finishing paperwork is taking on a new dimension in advertising.

Last year, Bryan Silverman called a barbecue restaurant a mile from his campus at Duke University to ask the owner whether he would be interested in saving a little money on his facilities costs. The owner, Bill Whittington, was intrigued. Mr. Silverman offered The Blue Note Grill in Durham, N.C., free toilet paper printed with a Quick Response (QR) code ad for the restaurant, as well as ads for other local businesses, in exchange for stocking the toilet paper in the Blue Note’s bathrooms.

One can only imagine the selling skill that was expended in getting around the “yuk factor” and convincing Mr. Whittington to start using the toilet paper ad to offer a buy-one-get-one-free dessert coupon.  Talk about a potential nauseating moment!  Wittington says, “The toilet paper is a great gimmick for the restaurant, on a busy night, we’ll see customers come out of the bathroom with a foot and a half of toilet paper, and everyone at the table will be looking at it. It creates a lot of conversation in the restaurant, too. People ask if they can take some with them if they are traveling from out of town.”

The concept was the brainchild of brothers Bryan and Jordan Silverman who founded Star Toilet Paper in 2011.  The brothers have turned bathroom tissue into a new media platform and print advertisements and QR code promotions that allow advertisers to offer content that can be downloaded on smartphones. Each roll has a series of eight ads that repeat. Advertisers pay just $5 per C.P.M., or cost per thousand views, to tap into a host of mobile advertising options. By utilizing QR codes and SMS text ads, companies that advertise with Star are able to use the toilet paper as an innovative jumping off point to further brand interaction.  The company concentrates on places like restaurants and theaters, but their goal is to eventually provide their toilet paper to a bigger audience in places like stadiums and university buildings.

The Fish Doctors of Ann Arbor, Mich., an aquarium business run by Tom Campbell, was Star’s first advertiser two years ago. “We’ve been able to flush away our competition since we started using Star Toilet Paper,” said Mr. Campbell, unable to avoid a quip.

Are marketing professionals, who have long advanced the conceptual importance of proper brand placement that doesn’t transfer negative, subliminal perceptions that diminish brand value, experiencing more than just a little digestive discomfort with this new advertising medium?  In an era of contextual marketing, it seems that advertising messages are getting more up close and personal.

Great Rule, Terrible Password: trustno1


Passwords are the key to all the systems and applications we use every day to do everything from reading the daily e-paper, saying hello to our friends and family, making purchases and performing all things banking and financial. In short, in this electronic digital age user names and passwords are the keys to our whole life.  They are every bit as important to maneuvering through life as our social security number (that 9 digit number that reveals to the whole of our world who we really are) only worse, there are many more than just one to remember.  And if you are like the guy who still cannot remember where the social security card went to forty years ago, remembering all the user names and passwords is an example of certain impossibility.  And simplifying the process of invention and storage may well invite certain calamity and wide spread mayhem through our daily lives.

Compromised passwords are one of the means by which unauthorized people, Hackers, gain access to our systems. Someone logging on under your name has access not only to your computer files, but may also have access to your personal information and may impersonate you to send malicious e-mail or order embarrassing online products and services.   Selecting unique and secure passwords is essential to avoiding disaster, but what denotes unique or qualifies as secure?

Believe it or not “Password” has topped the list of the most popular and the worst password for many consecutive years now, followed by “123456” and “12345678”.  Honestly now, ”password” is as effective to hiding your important data from a hacker as the cookie jar is to hiding my wife’s newest batch of freshly baked cookies from her resident cookie monster.  You may as well ring a bell and erect a billboard declaring, “Come and get it!”

Some new entrants this year for the least imaginative and secure passwords of all times include; “ninja”, “jesus,” and the highly imaginative “password1.”  They will join the ranks of “baseball,” “monkey,” “iloveyou,” and “111111”.

Having a different password for each service is a must in today’s online world, but there’s a terrible weakness to randomly generated passwords: it’s impossible to remember them all.  The trick to remembering a large number of passwords is having a base password you change according to the service you’re signing up to.  It should be at least 8 characters in length, contain both upper and lowercase alphabetic characters (e.g. A-Z, a-z), have at least one numerical character (e.g. 0-9), and have at least one special character (e.g. ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) – _ + =).  Great, all we needed was more than ten numbers and 26 letters.

As a general rule, you should avoid writing down your passwords (sure, no problem) but in cases where it is necessary passwords should be stored in a secure location (remember the cookie jar analogy) and never be stored in an unencrypted electronic file named “my passwords”.  Really!  Software like Keepass and Password Safe are available to secure all your passwords in one place and give you access to the list with just one password.  Norton’s Identity Safe option allows for similar secure storage of passwords with an additional automatic-fill feature to its subscribers as well but both provide their own security risks. Get around the one password and a hacker has the keys to everything.

There are few absolute “don’ts” to avoid if you want to secure your data:

  • Never share your passwords to anyone.
  • Do not respond to emails from someone you don’t know
  • Do not use personal information like your name, address or birthdate as part of a password
  • Avoid single word “passwords” or use one password for every site
  • Do not write or keep passwords where they may be seen or found by others

As intruders become more and more accomplished at gaining unauthorized access to user identifications an passwords, devising longer and more complex passwords are sure to become necessary to keep private information safe.  Speaking on a TechCrunch Disrupt panel called “Spies Like Us,” Heather Adkins, Google’s manager of information security, told moderator Greg Ferenstein that in the future, the “game is over for” any startup that relies on passwords as its chief method to secure users and their data.   She talked briefly about Google’s use of two-step authentication and the fact that the search giant has been working to innovate in the area of non-standard password security.  New startups looking for ways to keep their users secure should know one thing, Adkins said, “Passwords are dead.”

Until alternative methods are available, perhaps the best and most absolute rule to follow in life and in passwords is “trustno1”.  Great rule, terrible password!

The Cold War: Frozen Treats versus Ice Cream

The chilly relationship between rival upstate New York ice cream truck operators got out of hand this season, with Sno Kone Joe trying to chase Mr. Ding-A-Ling out of the market.  Gloversville police told local media outlets two Sno Kone Joe operators face harassment and stalking charges after heated confrontations last month that included one of them yelling “This is my town!” at Phillip Hollister, a Mr. Ding-A-Ling driver.  And in New York City, Mister Softee brought a sugar cone to a knife fight resulting in two frozen treat slingers being arrested after getting their licks in during a midtown turf war that could have become a stabbing.  For centuries the frozen treat, or ice cream market has been identified with creative, colorful, veracious and boldly flavorful marketing tactics, but is competition really come to this, all-out war?

The evolution of ice cream can be traced to the Persian Empire, where people would pour grape-juice concentrate over snow, in a bowl.  Enjoyed primarily when the weather was hot, using snow saved in the cool-keeping underground chambers known as “yakhchal”, or taken from snowfall that remained at the top of mountains by the summer capital, Hagmatana, Ecbatana or Hamedan of today. It serves up a new perception to the phase, “going out for ice cream.”

The first ice cream parlor in America opened in New York City in 1776. American colonists were the first to use the term “ice cream” and in n 1851, Jacob Fussell in Baltimore established the first large-scale commercial ice cream plant.  The first ice cream mold and scooper was patented on February 2, 1897, but it wasn’t until 1926, that the first commercially successful continuous process freezer for ice cream was invented by Clarence Vogt.  In 1904 the walk-away edible cone made its American debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and the competition in the frozen treat market was joined.

Nearly 1.53 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts were produced in the U.S. in 2011 generating total revenues of $10 billion in 2010, with take-home ice cream sales representing the largest section of the market, generating revenues of $6.8 billion or 67.7 percent of the market’s overall value.  The majority of U.S. ice cream and frozen dessert manufacturers have been in business for more than 50 years and many are still family-owned businesses.  Ice Cream is as much a part of the American culture as baseball, Mom and apple pie (subjects for another time), that President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day.

But after decades of dominating the market as America’s favorite frozen dessert, ice cream’s reign appears to be coming to an end.  According to The Daily Ticker, innovative competition and healthy trends are playing against the industry. Ice cream sales are poised to hit their lowest level as consumption rates continue to drop.  Instead of reaching for ice cream, consumers are reaching for frozen yogurt instead. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of “froyo” shops featuring frozen yogurt soared by 24 percent and It’s not just frozen yogurt that’s pulling away ice cream lovers, consumers are also enjoying gelato, Italian ice, custard, smoothies and other frosty concoctions.

Ice cream was America’s dominant frozen dessert for decades because new products consistently offered diners new types of experiences. The Dairy Queen Blizzard and Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors (one for every day of the month) were early ice-cream improvements on the two or three standard flavors offered at a typical mom-and-pop ice cream counter. In the 1980s, super premium ice cream such as Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s turned everyday dessert into a luxuriant niche. In the ‘90s, new arrivals such as Cold Stone Creamery added a customized touch by blending your chosen flavor and your add-ins right in front of you.  The ice cream industry isn’t ready to wave the white flag just yet as more chains are trying to regain their “cool” factor by establishing gourmet flavors or expanding into ice cream cupcakes and adding funky ice cream flavors such as, beef, pizza, corn-on-the-cob, avocado, and pear blue cheese.  To regain the cool factor, some chains are enriching their own offerings.  Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a small Ohio-based chain, has helped establish a new gourmet segment with flavors such as goat cheese with red cherries and Riesling poached pear.  At Haagen-Dazs, the latest menu addition is gelato. Dairy Queen recently introduced fruit smoothies, including a “light” version. The latest delicacy at Ben & Jerry’s isn’t ice cream, but a lineup of Greek frozen yogurt in flavors such as vanilla honey and pineapple passion fruit.

With the frozen-dessert market more crowded than ever, ice cream brands are finding new ways to stay competitive. Classic concepts are leaning on their popular product lines and loyal customer bases while rolling out new offerings. Many have learned from frozen yogurt’s use of novelty and are making their products more customizable than ever.  To extend their reach and engage with consumers, ice cream makers have ramped up their efforts in social media marketing and advertising. To mark the National Ice Cream Month celebration in July, TrackMaven and iStrategyLabs have released an infographic to show the most popular ice cream makers in the U.S. in terms of fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Klout.

Consumers are always looking for something new and different, and the ice cream stores and the ice cream specialists that have maintained their sales have been the ones that continue to innovate, to promote and offer new treats.  “Ice cream is so entrenched in the American culture that it’s not really even close at all to being transplanted as being what people want, whether it’s after dinner or after seeing movies,” says David Wild, director of franchising for Sloan’s Ice Cream. “I don’t think that it really stands a chance of being overthrown, just because it has so many roots in American culture.”

The dessert wars are turning out to be a bonanza for diners so long as seekers of cool delights don’t get caught in the cross-fire between the nasty men of good humor.