Sweet Dreams

Calling Hershey’s Chocolate World in New York a store is like calling Times Square a corner
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Posted May 8, 2018

You’re probably up to here with the 21st century retail buzzword, “experiential.”

You’d perhaps just gotten over the last 20th century retail buzzword, “branding.”

Almost every retail brand has tried to incorporate what it considers an experience into its stores. Some have been reasonably successful; others have been awkward flops.

Even the flops deserve a C for effort. But why retail, which took so long to truly understand the power of branding, can’t better integrate that into the adventure of experience has long puzzled me.

In the May issue of VMSD, you’ll read an article on the Hershey Co.’s (Hershey, Pa.) new store in Times Square -- one of the most grand experiments in melding brand and experience.

It’s true that Hershey has an enormous advantage going in. Are there many better brand stories than Hershey’s? = Is there a more distinctive packaging logo than that upright, all-caps white lettering on a chocolate brown background?

And the Hershey Kiss doesn’t even require a logo. It’s the distinctive foil-wrapped shape with the little flag waving from the top. In Hershey, Pa., the lampposts are in the shape of Hershey Kisses. Is that branding enough?

But the Hershey Co. is more than bars and Kisses. It also owns Reese’s Cups and Pieces; Twizzlers; Kit-Kat; PayDay; York Peppermint Patties; Jolly Ranchers; Cadbury; Bubble Yum; Good-n-Plenty; Mounds and Almond Joy; Whoppers; Milk Duds; Rolo’s. Who knew? Probably not most casual Times Square strollers. And that was part of the branding experience.

“Hershey brand products have their own identities, but also so do each of the other brands,” Jose Padron, the company’s Lead Global Retail Design, told me. “So we tried to create different identities for each product section. You go to the Twizzler wall, its personality is much different than the Reese’s wall.”

Those sections each have their own color palettes and graphics. But combining them was also part of the experience. At the Amazing Candy Machine – 20 linear feet of bins – shoppers are encouraged to grab a container, pull the levers and create their own assortments into a souvenir bucket or box. It’s participative and immersive.

At the Sweet Personalization area, shoppers can customize a wrapper – with a picture or a quote or a dedication – which is printed on the spot and wrapped around a jumbo Hershey Bar.

At the Hershey’s Kitchens, using specialty recipes created in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America, people can order hot chocolate and sweet snacks, including the kitchen’s specialty – a S’Mores. The familiar chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker snack is assembled for customers, but they get to press their S’Mores together into a blended, gooey confection. (Hershey’s calls it “smooshing,” a popular New York City verb.)

All the offerings are meant to be special, says Padron – “not just something you can get at Walgreen’s, because what would be the point of that?”

This being Times Square, Hershey could have gone the digital signage route, running the same inventive brand ads that are so familiar and entertaining on TV. “A $7 billion company that advertises the way we do could easily have put its brand commercials up on the big screen and called it a day,” he says. “Instead, we chose to create a package of graphics that speaks to the brands in different ways.”

Most of the interior signage is analog and mechanical, a nod to a company history that will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year.

One exception is one of the largest digital signs in the neighborhood, on the top of the building. “It gives the company a prominent billboard on Times Square,” Padron notes. “If you watched the New Year’s Eve broadcast on TV, you could see the Hershey’s logo constantly scrolling in the background.”

A true branded New York experience.

As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20-plus years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.