Marketing Lofty Pursuits

After spending years expanding Lofty Pursuits and learning the skills needed to produce Victorian-style candy, Greg Cohen turned his planning to marketing. Of course, he had been marketing his business all along; it’s how it survived for so long and through several big changes. However, the rise of social media meant there was a new way to bring Public Displays of Confection to the masses.

Viral Videos

Even if you don’t live near Tallahassee, Fla., it’s possible this blog series isn’t the first time you’ve heard of Public Displays of Confection, the candy brand produced by Lofty Pursuits. That’s because a few years ago, Cohen got the idea to start filming himself making candy, and the internet responded by spreading the videos across social media.

“It seemed to be the logical thing to do to spread the love,” says Cohen when asked about why he started making videos. Of course, there was a business impetus there, as well.

“One of the things about candymaking, in being able to ship the candy, [is that] chocolate is hard to ship. The hard candy is much easier,” explains Cohen. “I can sell it all over the country; I’m not limited to the walls of my business. But I needed to let people know I was doing this, and I thought what I was doing was interesting.

While views came in slowly at first, they soon picked up steam.

“In 2012 I produced three videos and put them up, and nobody watched them. It took a while for them to catch on, and then somewhere around 2015 my first video went viral. I made a couple more and waited, and one of those went viral. I figured it would take me five years to get a following, and it did. We’re now on year six, and it’s only went up.”

Cohen soon realized that posting the same type of video repeatedly didn’t make sense, so he decided to change things up.

After the first five or six videos, I realized that every video was the same, so I started telling stories. People like the stories,” says Cohen. “All my videos have a second thing. All of them are making candy, but what’s interesting is the story about how humbugs became humbugs, and that’s something everyone can do on social media; talk about something and bring their business into it. Talk about something timely, something creative, something new, something fun.”

“If you post the same thing over and over again, it’s boring.”

Because most of Cohen’s videos are about Public Displays of Confection’s image candy, many of the stories relate to the image being created in the candy. For example, if you watch the Honey Crystal Sunflower Candies video, you might learn some interesting facts about sunflowers.

Despite all this planning, it’s difficult to predict which videos will achieve “viral” status.

“You can’t tell,” says Cohen. “Some of [them] go great, like the banana video, which was a thrown-together video of banana image candy. I hadn’t posted for months and I was going out of town. I had some footage, because I keep a couple in the can at all times. I threw it together, posted it, and [got] 500,000 views in two weeks. Why? I don’t know.”

As Cohen found his style in making candy videos, he stumbled across an accidental recipe for success.

“I read all the ‘how to make YouTube videos:’ close, face talking to the camera, loud, high-energy, concentrate on the person,” says Cohen.

However, he didn’t think that style would work for him.

“The candy’s the star,” he says. “You hardly see me; you see the candy. I’m not high-energy. I talk in my nice, quiet voice with swing music. I wanted to contrast with everything else, not copy other people. I want to be different.”

Marching on to Marketing

While the number of views his videos receive results in ad revenue, that wasn’t Cohen’s main consideration when he started posting.

“The videos have a second purpose,” he says. “My store is located about 200 feet from an exit on I-10; 100,000 cars a day come by. I was aiming to get five carloads of people a day off the interstate, but they had to know I was here.”

When it comes to marketing, the videos posted by Lofty Pursuits have certainly served their purposes.

“I get people off the interstate all the time coming in. Any restaurant owner can tell you, if you get an extra 10 or 15 people eating a day, it’s a big difference on the bottom line,” explains Cohen. “And the funny thing is, about half the people aren’t coming in because they saw the video themselves; it’s because their friend did and they want them to pick up candy as long as they’re here.”

Cohen doesn’t rely solely on his videos to spread the word of Lofty Pursuits. Perhaps due to his background in marketing, he has strong opinions about what brings in customers.

“You’ve got to ask, what are you selling? People don’t come to an ice cream store for ice cream; they come to an ice cream store because they’re sad and they want to be happy,” says Cohen. “They come to an ice cream store because they’re happy and they want to be happier.”

“If you don’t understand what you’re selling, which is rarely the product that’s being bought, you can’t market your store.”

That marketing philosophy influences how Cohen approaches running his business.

“We have a couple sentences that define how the store works, and because they’re not as specific as some people’s, they really work,” explains Cohen. “One: We sell happy. People should be happy when they come in here. They should come in here and have a smile. We’ve got a 7-foot fiberglass banana hanging on the ceiling, and I can tell you there isn’t a five-year-old that doesn’t smile and laugh at the giant banana.”

But how does that philosophy of fun translate to marketing? Cohen points out that bringing ice cream to the masses isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

“How do you advertise to people under 12 nowadays? When parents don’t buy the newspapers, the Sunday comics are not read,” says Cohen. “They’re not watching TV, they’re probably watching Netflix or YouTube. They’re not listening to the radio, they’re listening to Spotify. None of these mediums are really applicable to getting advertising on it. If it’s a channel on YouTube that’s geared for children, they won’t allow advertising on it. So you’re now looking at, how do I market?”

Cohen found his answer in an unusual place: a marching band sponsored by Lofty Pursuits.

“We have 60 to 70 members, so we can get 30 to 40 out for a parade. My wife used to be a high school marching band teacher, so I actually have a band director at my disposal. About five years ago I stopped spending any advertising money on businesses that send their profits out of town. That has written off almost every TV station and radio station in the city, so I do more creative things.”

Cohen buys damaged instruments and fixes them using his metalworking skills, and sometimes paints them – Tubas mounted on the walls of the soda fountain are decorated with roses, the Grinch, and Boba Fett falling into the sarlacc pit.

“I’d rather spend a few thousand dollars a year sponsoring a local marching band, where it’s 60 people going around telling people how great I am,” says Cohen. “They do about 30 gigs a year. My daughter even plays in it now, and I have employees who play in it, but most of the people who play are just community members who had a great time in high school and college and want to play again and have no place to play. They’re out there enjoying themselves and that’s what Lofty Pursuits is about, right?

This is the second installment in a two-part series about Greg Cohen and Lofty Pursuits. We posted the first part of this series, Unusual Origins: Lofty Pursuits, on February 28.

Courtney Barkley
Courtney Barkley

Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.