A frequent criticism of Millennials is that they're glued to their phones, paying too much attention to social media and seeking constant validation in the form of likes, retweets, followers, and comments. Regardless of what one thinks of other people's social media habits, what is inarguable is that social media plays a vital role in the public performance of self for many consumers, regardless of age. This is particularly true when it comes to Instagram. As an almost-purely visual medium, Instagram can be – and has been – curated by users to create and depict public images of social status and wealth, regardless of the relative sophistication or tax bracket of the user. It is no longer necessary to time one's arrival at the hottest new club or restaurant: simply geotagging it with the right picture and hashtag gives you access to an audience of millions... and vice versa. Those inclined towards the spectrum of conspicuous consumption needn't hope for someone to see them: they can show off exactly what they ate, bought, and wore and harvest envy or admiration as they see fit.
In an age where everyone is obsessed with the idea of a personal brand, the marketing tools of location, branding, and exclusivity have been scaled down to fit the individual. Good marketers know this and aim to meet those needs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the unexpected world of weird desserts.In a recent article about frozen desserts and the Asian (and America) market by Julia Moskins for the New York Times, Moskins describes a student in New York trying to get the perfect picture of her ice cream. “I hope it doesn’t melt before I can eat it,” the student told her as she took pictures from various angles. "But posting it is part of the point." It's a point that no one can afford to miss.
In the 21st century, consuming ice cream does not necessarily mean consuming – that is, eating – the ice cream.
The novelty of these confections – as you'll see – has led to a kind of micro-industry based on aesthetics that, if not geared towards social media users, is certainly cognizant of the importance placed on being photogenic and exclusive. In some cases, it's created a kind of viral consumer demand driven in a large part by social media that has allowed manufacturers to take their inventions abroad.
Still not buying it? Take a look for yourself.
1. Ice Cream Corn by Dominique Ansel (Japan).
The "Crème de la Corn" was invented by Dominque Ansel, who also gave the world – by way of New York City – the Cronut. It's only available in Japan. Ansel describes it on his Instagram account as "grilled corn on the cob brushed with soy sauce and butter, swirled with caramel sweet corn soft serve and corn caramel on top."
2. Thai Ice Cream Rolls (originally Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines, now available in U.S.)
3. Taiyaki (fish-shaped) cones (Japan, NYC, LA).
In her Times article, Moskin quotes Roxanne Dowell, an editor at Sassy Hong Kong, who says, "What I see day and night is kids holding up cones in one hand and phones in the other. ...And the girls make sure to get their manicures in the shot." Take a look below and you'll get an idea of what she means.
4. Cotton Candy Ice Cream (Japan, now NYC also).
Wu Kong is a Japanese company that just made its American debut in New York City. Its signature ice cream dessert is a cone with a cotton candy "cloud" wrapped around it. Very colorful, though it has the drawback of hiding one's manicure.
5. Ube (yam) and Activated Charcoal Ice Cream (Canada, Japan, U.S.)
Ube is a type of purple tuber. Sort of like a sweet potato. Sort of. Activated charcoal is used in water filters and to pump stomachs, so...Look, we don't get it either. It's black and purple and looks cool: any purported health benefits are probably wildly overstated. If you're not a fan of kawaii rainbows and unicorns, this might be more your speed.
We're not sure which of these will become the next bubble tea, but we are sure that social media isn't going away. As long as entreprenuers can keep consumers engaged in an age of steadily decreasing attention spans, novelty ice cream is sure to remain a hot commodity.