STRATHAM, N.H. - Lindt Bear, the star of the Swiss chocolatier’s holiday collection this year, has everything a modern candy animal might need - a premium milk chocolate figure, a fancy gold foil wrapper, a red ribbon necklace, and yes, its own iPhone app.
The 166-year-old company, whose US headquarters are just over the border in this southern New Hampshire town, recently kicked off the worldwide launch of the Lindt Bear with high expectations. Its executives hope the cheery confection will gain international acclaim the way its Gold Bunny has over 60 years of Easter sales. And, of course, get people to buy more chocolate.
The Lindt Bear is the company’s biggest product launch ever - during the biggest selling season. Gold-colored smart cars with Lindt Bear heads sticking from their roofs are tooling around the streets of Europe. A 15-foot inflatable bear sits on top of the entrance to the Lenox Hotel in the Back Bay, right next to a Lindt shop.
But the US division wanted to go a step further and marry old-school chocolate-making with the high-tech habits of modern consumers. Earlier this year, the New Hampshire team sought permission from Swiss executives to create a digital identity for the catalog cover bear through an iPhone app and a website dedicated to the milk chocolate figure, which weighs 3.5 ounces and costs about $4.
“It’s perfect. I’m a tech freak,’’ said Thomas Linemayr, chief executive of Lindt USA. “All these modern technologies are actually great at helping to bring an emotional attachment to candy. What we’re all about is making people happy.’’
Over several months, Lindt holiday brand manager Sara Famulari reviewed “voice talent,’’ eventually selecting a winner based on his“warm and friendly’’ inflection. She also helped designers create the sites - an effort that cost somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000, according to Linemayr.
Lindt tries to bring the bear to life with its “Say it with the Lindt Bear’’ app and website, www.lindtbear.com. The program allows consumers to create personal holiday greetings and select different backgrounds (snowy landscape, holiday house), animations (the Lindt Bear can ice skate, build a snowman, make snow angels, etc.) and record a custom message for the bear to recite. His voice can be pitched pretty high. Maybe too high - Lindt Bear’s giggles sound remarkably similar to those of the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
The website also showcases the full candy collection - Mini Lindt Bears, Lindt Bear & Friends, and Lindt Beary Sweet bag - and directs visitors to an online store. It’s the first chocolate bear, at least that Lindt knows of, with its own iPhone app and website.
“I don’t study the chocolate bear market, but I can’t think of another bear with this kind of digital presence,’’ said Chris Cakebread, a Boston University professor who teaches advertising. “It used to be a cool interactive idea from cutting-edge companies, but now it has become almost expected from any business trying to reach younger consumers.’’
The digital efforts, however, can make sense for a company like Lindt if it connects the interactive experience with an opportunity to purchase the product, according to Cakebread.
Lindt declined to provide bear sales or statistics for the website and app downloads, but said the product is meeting expectations.
“You can’t animate a chocolate bar the way you can with a bear,’’ Famulari said. “It helps us build an emotional connection with consumers through the website and the app so that when you see the bear online or in the store, you want to buy it.’’
The Lindt Bear is getting top billing for the Christmas season - featured on the cover of the company’s holiday catalog and in advertisements in glossy magazines such as Vanity Fair and Fortune, where it’s depicted life-size, drinking milk at a bar with Lindt’s global chief executive as part of a Credit Suisse advertising campaign.
Company officials say the bear has staying power and they plan to showcase the confection prominently through Valentine’s Day as well. But once the Easter selling season arrives, Gold Bunny rules, and the bear gets the boot.