February 25, 2013 Henriette Weber wrote:

Brand activism: why Ben & Jerry’s is so inspiring

We have been on the lookout for some cool, inspiring brand with a unique approach to business and social activism – in a hippie sort of way.

To qualify for our search, a brand should have integrated the social and the responsible into the business model from day one, and not only morphed into a more social and responsible company today simply because it’s the “in” thing to do right now.  A brand whose bottom lines are not only great products or services and the corresponding windfall profits but more importantly, a brand fully dedicated to improve the quality of life not only locally but also globally.

A business willing to sacrifice its profits on the altar of its social responsibility – the idea seems strange, right? Most of us grew up in a world where the sole purpose of creating business was to make a profit; the more profit we made, the more success our business concerns were.

Nowhere was this view more apparent than in the US where the full notion of capitalism, both the good and the ugly, was born. In fact, the US invented the concept “to make money”, where everyone and anyone have the opportunity to create wealth.  And no other country in the world uses its initials as its proud symbol for currency except the US – the dollar sign “$” is the US placed on top of each other.

Most of us grew up believing that business and social responsibility go together like oil and water. They just won’t cling together.

Brand activism at its best

But one brand stood out for meeting the seemingly impossible criteria of marrying business and social responsibility together.

Quite ironically and much to our pleasant surprise, this social brand – Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream – is an American company created not a year ago, not five years ago but, amazingly, more than 30 years ago. Ben and Jerry’s social activism is something worth aiming for, and worth creating a social activism strategy around. It simply rocks.

The brand was so ahead of its time that they were one of the first companies to give its employees living allowances, a pay rate twice the national average, offered better benefits, donated 7.5 percent of its annual pre-tax revenue to charity, and supported local as well as third world farmers by paying a premium on organic produce.

Not only that and this is the fun part, this brand strongly believes that its progressive social mission is as equally important as its profits.  Ben & Jerry’s  buys quality ingredients from a New York bakery that hires the homeless since the mid-80’s, and they are the first US company to loudly support the use of Natural Refrigerants, a more energy efficient and climate friendly alternative to standard freezers, in its Cleaner, Greener Freezer campaign.

Such delightful way of doing business is proudly punctuated by the brand’s famous triple bottom line mission statement – people, planet and profits – in that order.

Seamless online and offline engagement

Being a true-blue social brand since birth, the shift to social media was just perfect for Ben & Jerry’s. The brand has over 5 million facebook  fans with some 100,000 people talking and engaged at any one time.

But exactly why are they so successful?

Ben & Jerry’s is known for its distinctive flavors and unusual flavor names like Imagine Whirled Peace, Karamel Sutra and Chocolate Therapy that fans can become quite passionate about. Their social formula is simple – announce the new flavor and include an enticing product shot.  Given how yummy these look on facebook feeds, it’s not surprising that most announcements averaged 25K per post!

So what does brand activism mean for your brand?

In this age of increasing consumer participation and vigilance, we firmly believe that there is no other way to conduct business but to go social. Of course, it requires a lot of soul-searching and resources especially for established companies that are trying to reposition their brand to adapt to these earth-shifting times. For newbie companies, the shift may be less painful but still resource-sapping especially when working on a tight budget.

Oh and if you ever want to buy us Ben & Jerry’s we’re really into Caramel Chew Chew =)

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One Response to Brand activism: why Ben & Jerry’s is so inspiring

  1. Pingback: Brand megatrend coming up: Brand activism

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