Instant karma? Ben & Jerry's tiptoes back to TV

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fearing backlash from loyal Ben & Jerry's fans skeptical of obvious marketing ploys from the grass-roots Vermont ice cream marketer, two 15-second TV spots take a decidedly low-key approach to introduce a "Less Body, More Soul!" health platform.

In the first TV spots in many years, pints of Carb Karma, No Sugar Added and Light varieties sit among the classic clouds and rolling hills of Ben & Jerry's packaging as a winged version of the signature Woody Jackson-drawn cow flies over with a banner announcing the varieties, also noted via a warbled voice-over that breaks out amid quirky polka-like music. The ads, from independent Amalgamated, New York, break on national cable May 27.

"We needed to stick with our core equity because consumers project a lot on to the brand and these spots allow them to play along rather than make them say, `That's not my Ben & Jerry's,"' said Walt Freese, chief marketing officer of the Unilever brand.

Charles Rosen, co-founder of Amalgamated, offered that the "very low-fi ads with South Park-style 2D animation" are purposefully the opposite of everything else in the category. "If it felt produced, it would be wrong ,"Mr. Rosen said.

The health trend has quickly gone from "a curious trend to the here and now, and we needed to address it with products and with media that could build awareness and trial quickly," Mr. Freese said.

Mass media has been mostly eschewed for its base brand (except in rare cases including a test of TV five years ago), but is being employed for the line of lower carb, calories and sugar varieties as a matter of necessity. According to Mr. Freese, retailers judge whether or not to keep the new items after a short eight-to-10-week period, and Ben & Jerry's hopes to register its better-for-you message early amid the clutter of other entries, especially those of its super-premium rivals.

Super-premium competitor Haagen-Dazs, owned by Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, is expected to launch its own TV effort this summer with a more humble message, and Dreyer's is also pushing hard against its new Edy's Slow Churned Grand Light ice cream. Dreyer's will tout the new slow-churned method as a way to deliver a light ice cream with a taste as good as full-fat.

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