Episode 44

Ben & Jerry’s

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… BEN & JERRYS

Show Notes (click to expand)

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip…I’ll give you a few “FLAVOR” hints:

Chip Happens
Chocolate Therapy
The Tonight Dough
Chunky Monkey
Phish Food
Cherry Garcia
and one of my favorites….Schweddy Balls, an ode to Pete Schweddy of that famous 1998 Saturday Night Live sketch.
Do I really need to say the name of this brand? 

OK…here goes, Welcome to Ben & Jerry’s! 

While these flavor names are clever and taste amazing, this episode goes way beyond ice cream because the Ben & Jerry’s brand is way beyond ice cream.

Let me explain!

Former President Barack Obama once said that the sum of his time as a parent comes down to two lessons he shared at Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce mega-conference:

“If you sum up the things I try to impart to our daughters, it has been: ‘Be kind and be useful!”

I can’t think of a brand that embodies these two qualities more effectively than Ben & Jerry’s! 

Ben and Jerry, childhood friends, opened their first location in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont. From the get-go, they decided to do business differently, by building it in a way that would delight consumers, support its employees and improve the community. Social activism became part of its DNA!

Over time, the ice cream expanded from their first store to franchises and then into packaged pints sold in supermarkets nationwide. They eventually sold to Unilever in 2000, who scaled up this socially-driven brand.

In their book, Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip, they take a stance on the power of social values being a key factor for brands to achieve long term success. I think of the book as an insider’s guide to creating a values-led business that makes money, while also benefiting the entire community. 

Ben & Jerry’s consistently demonstrates how you can make money, while also promoting social welfare. Every aspect of their operations takes aim at solving larger issues, such as criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, systemic racism, sustainable sourcing, climate change, and fair wage pay and benefits for employees.

It’s one thing for a brand to talk about what they stand for….it’s another thing when they WALK-THAT-TALK!

When Alison Beard, Senior Editor at the Harvard Business Review asked Christopher Miller, Head of Global Activism Strategy at Ben & Jerry’s the following question, How does Ben and Jerry’s decide what events it will speak up about?, he shared the following:

“We have a team of social mission folks with an NGO or policy background, paired with a world-class marketing team that knows how to connect with our fans and sell ideas. So, when things happen, we have this privilege, power, and ability to communicate.”

In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by police and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, Ben & Jerry’s issued perhaps the strongest corporate statement on this matter. Its headline was “We Must Dismantle White Supremacy: Silence Is NOT An Option.”

The brand didn’t stop at this bold statement. It also issued a series of “concrete steps” to dismantle white supremacy, including calling on President Trump to commit the US to a formal process of healing and reconciliation, asking Congress to create a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination from 1619 to the present and supporting the Floyd family’s call to create a national task force that would draft bipartisan legislation aimed at ending racial violence and increasing police accountability.

Former chairman Jeff Furman, who led Ben & Jerry’s from the 1980s to his retirement in 2018, called the company “a social justice organization that sells ice cream to be able to fuel its advocacy work.”

One of my favorite examples of this are two issue-oriented ice cream flavors Ben & Jerry’s launched: Pecan Resist in 2018, a nod to Black Lives Matter, and Change the Whirled (whirled spelled w-h-i-r-l-e-d) in early 2021 with NFL quarterback and racial justice advocate Colin Kaepernick. These flavors demonstrate the brilliant job Ben & Jerry’s does using business to drive social change.

Iconic brands work on societal issues that matter to their customers and create positive change in the world. I call this PURPOSE and the brands that use their products to deliver on their PURPOSE become iconic in the long term. Ben & Jerry’s is clearly one of them….  

AND here’s why:

They’ve know from inception that they’re NOT in the ice cream business….they’re in the “CHANGEMAKER” business…and they use their ice cream to MAKE CHANGE in the social justice arena.

According to Ashoka, a social entrepreneurship organization, they coined the word CHANGEMAKER to mean “one who desires change in the world, and by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen.”

Ben & Jerry’s has consistently demonstrated their ability to MAKE meaningful CHANGE happen!

I’ll leave you with one last example of Ben & Jerry’s CHANGEMAKING power:

On September 15th 2020, they launched a podcast in partnership with VOX Media and The Who We Are Project called, “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.” Each 30-minute episode focuses on a different period in American history and its link to modern-day systemic racism. Each episode calls for listeners to take action for a more equitable future. Check it out on voxmedia.com

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

o   Your product is NOT your brand.

o   Your brand is your Core Value…AND

o   You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.

o   BEN & JERRY’S  uses their ice cream to drive their Core Value of CHANGMAKER.


So, if you want to “Be kind and be useful”, then be a part of the CHANGE Ben & Jerry’s is MAKING by purchasing ONE of their wacky ice cream flavors and remember this:

CHANGEMAKER is how Ben & Jerry’s SCORES

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST, and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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