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Growth Through Purpose ™
Growth Through Purpose ™

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

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 rewards. Therefore, limiting a product or service is a powerful way to catch stakeholder attention and bring pertinent cultural issues to light. 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’ right to enjoy the flavors they desire, Ben & Jerry’s shed 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.

2. 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 invested in promoting good causes; however, incorporating your product or service into messaging about cultural issues is an even more compelling way to connect with social movements 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 World 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. Halfway through the video, the ice cream starts rehardening and viewers are prompted to encourage both public and private sector leaders to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, suggesting that only together we can reverse the impacts of climate change.

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

The key takeaway here is that utilizing your products or services in content that is 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.

3. 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 quirky 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 their special edition flavor, Empowermintto the NAACP, who work to increase voter registration, especially in underrepresented communities. Demonstrating that 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 weave social commentary into their marketing and branding strategy. Ben & Jerry’s purposeful initiatives are amazing case studies for effective ways to connect with social movements.  These purpose-driven actions not only strengthen consumer goodwill, loyalty, and trust, but they can also inspire stakeholders to be advocates for your brand, generate earned media, and help to build a better world.


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Title image via Flickr courtesy of user Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue at