The Ben & Jerry’s Guide to Getting Tastefully Political as a Brand

Matthew Dennis
April 17, 2019

Recently, I was scrolling through my Instagram timeline and came across the following ad from Ben & Jerry’s. The ad highlights an important social issue with the caption “Outcomes of our criminal justice system shouldn’t be based on the color of your skin.” A very powerful and political post from a brand that sells… ice cream?

After doing a little research, I found that highlighting social issues is actually a major component of the Ben & Jerry’s brand. They make a huge point out of posting and educating their fans about key social justice issues. In fact, if you had any questions as to what issues Ben & Jerry’s cares about, you can easily find it on their website listed under “Issues We Care About.”

Or, again, you could simply check their social pages.

While it certainly shouldn’t be the case for all brands and is highly dependent on intent, I personally like when a brands are transparent in this fashion – informing the consumer of their beliefs and speaking up for the issues they care about.

I know what you’re probably thinking here. “Matt, anytime that a brand tries to speak out on social issues it blows up in their face! PEPSI, MATT. REMEMBER PEPSI?!?!

Yes, Pepsi’s ad ended up being a PR nightmare, but that goes back to my point about intent. And this is key. Pepsi used an issue they thought people cared about in an ill-intentioned attempt to promote their brand. Ben & Jerry’s, on the other hand, is using their brand and platform to talk about the issues they care about. See how that works?

Everyone may not agree with their specific positions, but at least there is a little more purity in the intent.

It’s not the only case in which we’ve seen brands use their platforms to highlight social issues with success. Take Nike and their “Believe In Something. Even If It Means Sacrificing Everything.” campaign for example.

Again, you maybe thinking “Wait, didn’t I see videos of people burning their Nike gear on social media after this campaign?” You sure did. But you also saw that this directly resulted in a $6 billion increase in value for the company.

So what can we take away from this? What are the rules or guidelines for a brand to follow when they want to speak about issues that matter to them? Here are a few suggestions.

Practice what you preach.

Ben & Jerry’s isn’t just posting about the social issues they care about so they can get attention and sell more ice cream. Sure, you can argue that marketing at least a part of it. It is. But as you can see on their website, they’re actively donating and participating in foundations that support their beliefs. Walking the walk and talking the talk.

Be smart.

However you plan on highlighting or taking a stance on a social issue, be sure to keep in mind everyone who is affected and how they may receive the message. Pepsi didn’t really think about the negative reaction people would have seeing Kendall Jenner being the head of their social justice campaign and solving centuries of racial tension and police brutality with the crack of a Pepsi can.

Have realistic expectations.

When you post about social issues, know that you’re never going to make everyone happy. You’ll get reactions like this:

And some like this:

You’re going to have to think long and hard about the pros and cons of taking a public stance on an issue or even channelling a hot topic in your brand promotion. Beware that the latter is, more often than not, a bad idea.

In today’s political climate, you can pretty much expect a bit of backlash either way. But is it both the responsibility of and beneficial to your brand to speak up? That’s up for you to decide.