Ben & Jerry's goes alternative with new effort

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The alternative weekly newspapers used for the latest marketing push from Ben & Jerry's Homemade are a lot like the kind of consumer the Vermont ice cream company wants to target: opinionated and creative.

A sequence of four ads in alternative weekly newspapers in 13 markets this week encourages consumers to take a break from hectic schedules to "Stop & eat the ice cream," and enjoy music and activities at special "Urban Pastures" events. Ben & Jerry's hopes the effort will more efficiently target its key consumers and show how the brand fits with their lifestyle.

"The medium says as much about the brand as the message; and the crazier we get with the media, the more it reinforces the imagery of the brand," said Michael Sands, chief marketing officer at the ice cream marketer.

With the imminent acquisition of the socially conscious company by conventional corporate behemoth Unilever, it's more important than ever to keep the unconventional grassroots image of the brand out there.

The print ads from McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., break in publications including LA Weekly and Chicago's The Reader. The series features a trio of quarter-page "stopisms" -- such as "Stop & get to know your neighbors" or "Stop & spend an entire weekend day in your pajamas" -- that lead up to the final ad that invites consumers to local events to "Stop & taste the ice cream."


Ben & Jerry's also relays the message about the ice cream's pivotal role as an escape in radio spots developed in-house. The three spots, like those created by McKinney & Silver last year, use real people telling real stories, this time about how various new flavors introduced recently under the "2Twisted" banner can help solve problems in consumers' crazy lives.

The promotion also includes the deployment of hot-air balloons to summer fairs and festivals in key markets beginning May 15, stop signs on grocery stores' freezer cases featuring the witty stopisms and a chance for consumers to invent their own clever recommendations on how to slow down, using the company's Web site (

The decision to forgo TV -- despite last year's foray in two markets -- is also driven by the economics of the company, which has yet to benefit from the deep pockets of its soon-to-be parent.

"With the explosion of dot-coms, on top of it being an election year, TV is cost-prohibitive for a small brand," Mr. Sands said.


The aim of all the ads is to build the Ben & Jerry's name, although some do refer to the new flavors of the 2Twisted line. Last year, advertising focused on the new Smoothies, a less-than-stellar introduction for the company "that didn't do anything to build our brand," Mr. Sands said.

That said, Ben & Jerry's is committed to keeping its product portfolio varied and interesting. A new flavor combines two existing flavors -- Coffee, Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz and White Russian -- in a new product dubbed From Russia With Buzz. Ben & Jerry's hopes to pull sales from Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream's Starbucks coffee-based ice creams.

"We have those diehard fans that will always support our franchise, then you have the people out there trying new things; and, if we don't have something new, they're going to be trying [Dreyer's new superpremium entry] Dreamery," Mr. Sands said.

Unilever's Breyers brand leads the $3.9 million ice cream category with sales up 7.7% to $502 million for the year ended March 26, according to Information Resources Inc. Sales for Pillsbury Haagen-Dazs grew 5.3% to $178 million, Ben & Jerry's grew 8.4% to $160 million, Starbucks grew 17% to $38 million and, since its September launch, Dreamery has grown to $40 million.

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