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Ice-cream, activism and puns: How Ben & Jerry’s models purpose in an age of outrage

I spoke with Brittaney Kiefer from Campaign Magazine for this September 2020 article

Here are my interview answers in full:-

Has Ben & Jerry's marketing approach evolved over the years, and is there anything different about this moment when they've addressed BLM and the migrant crossings?

The original, pre-2000 sale to Unilever Ben & Jerry's was a brand built on the strength of its ethical convictions. From its amusing flavours to environmental stance, it was a 'good' brand. Twinning that easy-to-love bonhomie with tasty vats of ice cream made founders Ben and Jerry multi-millionaires when they sold up/ out to Unilever. Before the sale, the brand's current socio-political stance would have felt natural. Now, however, things are a little different. Whilst the brand's values might allow for a certain amount of leeway when it piggy backs onto a cause, it would feel alot more comfortable if they were championing 'softer' movements. Remembering that everything a brand does is ultimately defined by KPIs including brand equity, awareness and gross sales, having Unilever virtue signalling under the umbrella of the BLM Movement and the atrocities behind migrants crossing the channel seems a little distasteful.That said, these causes need influential backers if we're ever to effect significant change, so maybe the B&J stance is necessary - it's just an incredibly thin line to tread. 

What message does B&J's Facebook boycott send - does it look like an empty gesture? Can it afford to do it because it's a big, well-known brand? Should other brands follow suit or do they have no choice but to be on those platforms?

Facebook's behaviour as a global media owner is nothing short of despicable and I'd like to see more brands binning the channel until MZ cleans up his act. B&J can of course afford to take a stand - it won't ostracise itself from FB forever and the column inches generated sit neatly in their ethical, 'be good to each other' playbook. Other brands should follow suit but I'll bet there are a number of paid social managers out there who would be forced to choose their career and income over an ethical and, sadly, meaningless ethical stance.  

B&J manages to take a stance on social issues while also maintaining a fun tone of voice/image. Is this key and how can you balance the two? What can other brands learn from B&J in striking the right tone?

Humour always buys grace, especially in marketing and advertising circles. I don't think this is essential, although it is the facilitator that allows Ben & Jerry's to speak up without sounding too preachy.   

One MP accused B&J of "virtue signalling" over the migrant crossings. Has the brand ever gone too far? Is it doing so now? 

First of all, an MP accusing a brand of virtue signalling is so hypocritical it's disturbing. That aside, the migrant crossing issue does need to be at the forefront of public and political consciousness. Whether that noise ought to be generated by a Unilever brand is up for debate. Unilever has been, after all, slated by the website as enacting some pretty nefarious activitys around environmental reporting, palm oil, pollution and toxics, human rights, workers' rights, supply chain management, irresponsible marketing, animal rights, animal testing, factory farming, anti-social finance and controversial technologies. Glass houses, etc... 

How have people’s expectations of brands changed over the years since B&J started? How will they change in the future, in light of the events of 2020? 

People like their chosen brands to reflect a better world and are happy to pay more for products that walk the walk in the direction of positive change. I only see this becoming truer for a greater proportion of consumers after this year's shit storm.  


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