Ice Cream Pints Are Here to Offer You Affirmation

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I don’t remember the first time I noticed it, but at some point this summer, it became inescapable: The seals were talking to me.

I’m not talking about the kind with flippers. I mean those that lurk inside a pint of ice cream, right beneath the lid. Historically, these seals have been used to protect ice cream from tampering. But now, it seems, they’re also there to tell you how special you are for buying the ice cream you’re about to consume. Open the lid of a pint and, more often than not, you’ll be greeted with a message that would be right at home on a greeting card or a candy heart — and the reminder that, like insects under a rock, subliminal marketing is everywhere, just waiting to be exposed.

Seal messages tend to be employed by upstart and/or progressive/artisanal brands — older, ones like Häagen-Dazs typically slap their name on the seal and call it a day. Unsurprisingly, you can tell a lot about how a brand sees both itself and you, the customer, by the messaging it chooses to hide inside of its pints.

Jeni’s is the most similar to Yogi — you know, the tea brand whose tea bag tags urge you to “let your greatness show from your inner light” and effectively turn the act of drinking a cup of tea into an exercise in secondhand embarrassment. Like Yogi, Jeni’s is here for the feel-good, faintly condescending cringe. “All for the love of you,” reads one seal. “We make ice cream that tells stories of the people, places, and cultures that inspire us,” another declares. “Made to be licked, lopped, and loved,” says a third. Lopped? As in cut off like a dead tree branch? Maybe “licked and loved” would be too racy a sentiment to attach to ice cream, and god knows there’s dark magic to be found in alliteration, but in this context it’s nonsensical, which again prompts an unfortunate comparison to Yogi.

Meanwhile, Oatly traffics in the same self-referential hipster whimsy you’ll find sprayed all over its oat milk cartons. Here are some illustrated random lucky numbers, juxtaposed with some jokey copy about oats! Halo Top’s messaging is a dog whistle to its keto/gym bro fan base: “Let the spoon do the heavy lifting.” Gelato Boy takes a candy-hearts-plus-capitalism approach: “You make me melt,” the seal on its chocolate chunk gelato reads, accompanied by a QR code you can scan to win free gelato. And Alec’s, which claims to be the only ice cream “made with regenerative-verified ingredients,” prints a Dr. Bronner’s-level dissertation that expounds upon its contributions to the regenerative movement, in a font scaled for ants. Its think-of-the-environment tactic is shared by Brave Robot, the brand that makes its ice cream with animal-free whey: “You’re our hero,” the seal proclaims. “By eating this delicious pint, you saved 1 mile of gasoline emissions from our atmosphere.”

If all of this can be considered a byproduct of the tyrannical emphasis that brands, advertisers, corporations, and TED Talk speakers alike have placed on “storytelling” over the last several years, it’s equally illustrative of the strategies brands use to market to Gen Z, namely personalized content and an emphasis on values. What all of these brands have in common is “you”: You’re the hero, the one doing the heavy lifting, the one who is loved, the one doing your part for humanity by buying a pint of ice cream.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with knowing a brand’s story, or learning that its owner is a real person with a name and a professional background as, say, a frustrated patent attorney. And I appreciate the efforts of certain brands to reassure consumers that they care about the environment and workers’ rights in real and measurable ways. Also, the world is arguably bad enough at this point that we could use more affirmation wherever we can find it.

But by the time I’m ready to open the seal, I don’t need more marketing. I’ve already decided I like what you’re selling, so stop trying to sell it to me. Or, to put in language that any ice cream marketing department will likely understand: Just chill out.

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