01 Nov The Millennial Series Pt. 4: Ben and Jerry’s
In this series of articles, we have been covering companies that have done a great job of balancing core values with expanding their business. It is our theory that beyond the great products these companies create, their authenticity and efforts to improve the world have helped them connect with modern consumers. So far we have looked at Patagonia with its passionate environmentalism and Chobani with its efforts to support refugees and diversity. Today we look at Ben and Jerry’s, a company that is passionate about a wide variety of social issues.
Ben and Jerry’s: Ice Cream on the Front Line
When you think about ice cream, some words that come to mind are summer, sweet and happy. Ben and Jerry’s would agree with you, after all a third of their mission statement is to make “Euphoric Creations”. A word that might not come to mind is warrior, but the company founders and company itself are just that, social justice warriors. They aren’t afraid to take strong stances if it will lead to helping the earth or the people that inhabit it. To really be authentic in one’s beliefs requires backing them up even if people disagree with you. This applies to both people and companies, and is something that Ben and Jerry’s does a great job with.
“Consumers will not connect to causes that they feel are fake or self serving.”
American Marketing Association extensively covered how invested the company is in social issues in this article. One of the highlights of the article was when Adam Kleinberg, a CEO at an advertising company Traction, talked about how unabashed their approach is. Noting that if the company lost half of its customers in a social mission but made the other half more likely to buy the product, that was a win. Co-founder Ben Cohen certainly wasn’t worried about the brand looking bad when he was arrested earlier this year protesting the stationing of a fighter jet at a Vermont air base.
This type of bold “stick your neck out” approach makes Ben and Jerry’s more credible. It angers some, but has also led to an “insanely loyal” customer base. There’s a great scene in the HBO prohibition era series “Boardwalk Empire” where main character Nucky Thompson is trying to navigate how to balance his bootlegging activities with his job as a politician. In this scene his protege tells him “You can’t be half gangster anymore.” In other words, you’re in or you’re out, but you have to make a choice. The same logic can apply to brands with social activism (minus the illegal activities!). You’re in or you’re out. You can’t be half way if the brand is going to be seen as authentic. Ben and Jerry’s is all in.
As you can see on Ben and Jerry’s company values page they are interested in social causes that are all across the board. They have pages dedicated to supporting Democracy, LGBT Rights, Racial Justice, Fairtrade, Refugees and Climate. Most of these causes have very little to do with Ice cream or its production process. Instead the common factor is that they have a positive effect on the world and disadvantaged people.
It is said that all charity is self serving at some level, even if it’s as small as feeling good about yourself. Whether you feel this is true or not, we can all agree that the less self serving it is, the better. With brand image this takes on added importance. Consumers will not connect to causes that they feel are fake or self serving.
“Ben and Jerry’s is providing ways for people to not only educate themselves, but directly support social causes.”
Has Ben and Jerry’s benefited from their social causes in a business sense? Almost certainly. There have likely been many consumers motivated to start or keep buying the ice cream because of these strong moral stances. That doesn’t make it any less impressive. Co-founder Ben Cohen probably summed it up best in the AMA article referenced above, saying “If having a social mission is good marketing, then let’s hope more businesses do good marketing.” As we noted in our introduction article to this series, millennials don’t just like to read about social missions, they like to be involved in them. This is another avenue that has helped Ben and Jerry’s form positive connections with its consumers.
As referenced earlier, each of the causes they support has a designated page on their website. On these pages you can read about what the cause actually is. The pages also contain links to further information, related causes and links to actions the user can take to help the cause. It is these last pieces that are crucial with forming connections with modern consumers. Ben and Jerry’s is providing ways for people to not only educate themselves, but directly support social causes.
Another way the brand has helped consumers get involved in the action is through connecting specific ice creams to social issues. For example “I Dough, I Dough” was created in 2015 to support marriage equality for all or “Save Our Swirled”, created the same year for climate change. These socially connected flavors have helped to raise awareness and money for their causes. They also give consumers a direct connection to the movements.
Whether it’s making appearances at protests, educating consumers or linking major causes to their ice creams Ben and Jerry’s is on the front line of social activism. While their hard line stances have angered many including the conservative media, being authentic has caused many others to double down on their loyalty for the brand. Oh, and they make some pretty good ice cream as well.