Ben & Jerry's Recovers from CM Brain Freeze

Feature I recently read a story in the Boston Globe on how Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are reactivating the activism at Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. 

I initially thought I wouldn't write about it because it was a better example of corporate social responsibility than cause marketing.  If you regularly follow my blog you know I have a pretty narrow view of cause marketing, which I define as a partnership between a for profit and a nonprofit for mutual profit.  And the Ben & Jerry's story seemed to be missing the nonprofit piece.  But on a second reading I decided it wasn't.

Because when Ben and Jerry sold their ice cream company to the Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2000 for $326 million, they essentially left the company.  Unhappy that Unilever didn't vigorously continue their activism, they stepped away from the business, leaving just their names and pictures on the packaging.  In a sense, Ben & Jerry's the company lost its nonprofit partner.

But when Walt Freese took over Ben & Jerry's in 2004, he began a series of conversations with the founders that led to a new partnership called American Pie.  Made from apples and pie crust pieces, the ice cream is packed in pints with lids that carry information about shifting federal spending from nuclear missiles to children's programs.

'Do you really need 10,000 nuclear bombs?'  Greenfield asked in a phone interview from Washington, where he and Cohen kicked off the campaign.  'How many nuclear bombs are you going to send anywhere?  Five?  Ten?'

In addition to the lids, the Ben & Jerry's web site has a whole section dedicated to the campaign and the founders have embarked on a nationwide tour to promote American Pie.

Ben and Jerry always knew that corporate social responsibility was important to their business.  But it took their corporate namesake six long years to recover from what must have been a nasty brain freeze to realize that cause marketing and social activism should be part of the marketing mix and were indeed important differentiators for the brand.

Let's hope that this is one part of Ben & Jerry's that doesn't sink again into the deep freeze.

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