How Ben & Jerry’s Uses Ice Cream to Shape Cultural Conversations

July 31, 2017 Comments Off on How Ben & Jerry’s Uses Ice Cream to Shape Cultural ConversationsComments Off on How Ben & Jerry’s Uses Ice Cream to Shape Cultural Conversations

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One of the challenges companies face when weaving purpose into marketing and branding is that socially conscious initiatives can feel disconnected from brand culture. A company that does an excellent job mixing consciousness into communications strategy is Ben & Jerry’s. Since its inception in the late 1970’s, the ice cream makers have dedicated their business to not only making money and delicious treats, but also to building a better world.

Ice cream itself isn’t explicitly linked to social or environmental causes, but through a deep commitment to making an impact, coupled with innovative creative, Ben & Jerry’s intertwines purpose into its brand identity.

It goes without saying that the nuances of each individual business – and respective products and services — require tailored, purpose-driven plans, but the methods used by Ben & Jerry’s offer valuable lessons for companies looking to integrate purpose and utilize business as a force for good.

Here are a few ways to use products and services to join cultural movements:

1. Temporarily limit options: Research shows that taking something away can be as much or more of a motivational factor than rewarding someone. Therefore, limiting a product or service is a powerful way to catch stakeholder attention and bring light to pertinent cultural issues. What’s more, it is an effective means of positioning your brand as a storyteller in relevant social discussions.

In a recent effort to protest laws restricting same sex marriage in Australia, Ben & Jerry’s temporarily stopped serving patrons two scoops of the same flavor. While not being able to get two scoops of your favorite ice cream can be frustrating, “this doesn’t even begin to compare to how furious you would be if you were told you were not allowed to marry the person you love,” the brand said in a statement. “So we are banning two scoops of the same flavor and encouraging our fans to contact their MPs to tell them that the time has come – make marriage equality legal!”

By restricting ice cream lovers’ rights to enjoy the flavors they desire, Ben & Jerry’s sheds light on larger culture conversations about gay rights.

The key lesson here is that restraining customer options for a short time is an effective way of using your brand to touch upon larger social movements, especially those involving inequality, scarcity or overconsumption.

  •      Make branded media about social issues: Making public statements about social movements is one way to let consumers and the media know that your brand is vested in promoting good causes; however, incorporating your product or service into messaging about cultural issues is an even more compelling way to connect your brand with social good and scale the organic reach of your communications strategies.

Ben & Jerry’s did an amazing job of discussing climate change and promoting its brand with the Save Our Word video campaign. In the one-minute spot, the sweets-maker featured ice cream melting in a world hotter by 2 degrees Celsius, the tipping point beyond which experts predict irreversibly catastrophic climate impacts. Half way through the video the ice cream starts rehardening and viewers are prompted to encourage public and private sector leaders to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions,  suggesting that together we can reverse the impacts of climate change.

Ben and Jerry’s was again able to connect ice cream with global movements by creatively depicting the impacts of a warming planet on its frozen desserts.

The key takeaway here is that utilizing your products or services in media content focused on social issues is an excellent way to create relevant branded content that speaks to matters far greater than your brand or industry and inspires people to share it.

  •      Create special edition offerings: Just as taking something away is a powerful means to generate awareness about an issue, so is producing a new special product or service related to a good cause. Moreover, special edition merchandise is a great way to connect your brand with culturales conversations by not only increasing awareness about the issue, but also donating a percentage of proceeds to a nonprofit working for the cause.

Vermont’s most famous ice cream company is notorious for its wonky flavors and names. The brand recently made a special treat to support a more just political system. During the 2016 presidential election, Ben & Jerry’s donated a percentage of proceeds from the special edition Empowermint Flavor to the NAACP who works to increase voter registration, especially in underrepresented communities.

Ultimately, special edition products or services that support a social cause are excellent ways to inspire contributory consumption and associate your brand with larger cultural movements.

Brands that position their products and services inside larger cultural conversations are able to seamlessly include social commentary into marketing and branding strategy. Ben & Jerry’s purposeful initiatives are amazing case studies for brands looking to connect with social movements.  These purpose-driven actions not only strengthen consumer good will loyalty and trust, but they can also inspire stakeholders to be advocates for your brand generate earned media, and help build a better world.


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