"We take on the issues that we think are most important to our
values and where we can have an impact," said Ben & Jerry's
Senior Global Marketing Manager Jay Curley. "I don't think this is
a big departure from where we've been, but I do think it's another
step forward in really trying to bring more justice into this
Ben & Jerry's grew from a Vermont scoop shop opened in 1978
by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield into an international ice cream
maker that allocates 7.5% of its pretax profits to fund various
projects. When Unilever scooped it up in 2000, unique terms of the
$326 million deal included establishing an independent Ben &
Jerry's board of directors to focus on areas such as the company's
social mission and brand integrity.
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield, who are not on the Ben &
Jerry's board but remain involved with the company, were among 300
or so protesters arrested in April at a Democracy Awakening event
in Washington, D.C. With them were longtime board member Jeff
Furman, who helped write their business plan; Greenpeace USA
Executive Director Annie Leonard, a board member since 2013; and
Ben & Jerry's Activism Manager Chris Miller.
Ben & Jerry's is among the more outspoken brands on social
issues, even though it is housed within a major public company. It
is the only big brand in the Democracy Awakening coalition, which
is largely comprised of environmental, political, religious and
"We know that often we end up being one of the first companies
in movements like this, but we don't at all want to be the only
[one]," said Mr. Curley. "This is about movement building, it's not
about branding. And so my hope is, moving forward, other companies
will kind of get involved in these issues."
It's not bad for business, either. Unilever does not break out
sales of Ben & Jerry's, but said the brand's sales grew at a
double-digit pace last year.
The Ben & Jerry's board has legal oversight over brand
equity, the social mission and product quality. Unilever appointed
two of the 10 current members, Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein
Solheim and Unilever executive Pier Luigi Sigismondi, who sit
alongside others with a mix of activist backgrounds and more
traditional business experience.
In general, the brand focuses its call-to-action campaigns on
the earth's climate and social and economic equity. The board
approves issues the company plans to speak on, partners it will
work with and campaigns it plans to use, but does not create the
campaigns. Mekanism is the lead agency on the project,
which includes a petition seeking to reauthorize the Voting Rights
In May, to underscore the meaning behind limited-batch flavor
Empower Mint, Ben & Jerry's unveiled the product at an event in
North Carolina, a state with voting policies that the company and
others see as restrictive, particularly for minorities. Rev. Dr.
William J. Barber II, president of the state's NAACP chapter,
participated in both April's Democracy Awakening event and the ice
A 60-second spot is one of a series that illustrates the idea of
equal access by showing spoons dipping into a pint of Empower Mint,
a peppermint ice cream with fudge brownies and fudge swirls. Not
everyone gets an equal share, as big money's giant spoon takes an
oversize amount, while a disenfranchised voter's flimsy plastic
utensil cannot even dip into the sweet stuff.
"With Ben & Jerry's, we want to couch the issue in a way
that makes sense coming from an ice cream brand," said David
Horowitz, creative director at Mekanism.
Last year, for example, a video showed ice cream melting at just
two degrees above the recommended temperature, a metaphor for the
impact a two-degree temperature difference has on the planet.
Clearly, such messages resonate with the brand's core audience:
As of late June, the current campaign has more than 1 million video
views and 12,000 petition signatures.
Ben & Jerry's has worked with voter issues before. For
example, it partnered with Rock the Vote in 2004 to get young
people to register, including patrons who waited in long lines at
its scoop shops on the company's annual free cone day. Ben &
Jerry's says it does not support particular candidates, parties or
super PACs. Still, Mr. Cohen made his own small batch of a Bernie's
Yearning flavor in early 2016 to honor Bernie Sanders' campaign.
That product was not connected to the company.
Ben & Jerry's is devoting about 20% of its marketing budget
to "Democracy Is in Your Hands" this year. In 2012, it spent closer
to 10% on politically themed efforts with its "Get the Dough out of
Politics" effort focused on trying to overturn Citizens United, Mr.