Social Spotlight: Ben & Jerry’s and how to take an actionable stand on social
Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.
For years companies have faced increasing pressure to take a stand on social and political issues. And while some have succeeded in rising to this challenge, recent responses to COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement indicate that brands still have a ways to go. In fact, the generic corporate response of solidarity was so pervasive, it was eventually parodied—revealing the harsh reality that many brands were either unprepared, or worse, unwilling to address these issues head on. There are, of course, real risks giving these brands pause. Our most recent Brands Get Real report found that 55% of consumers say they would boycott brands that support public issues that don’t align with their own views. But therein lies the key to communicating a believable message during times of crisis: It should cost you something.
One brand willing to pay this price is Ben & Jerry’s. Whether it’s a social post illustrating how to defund the police with ice cream scoops or a personal account of white privilege, Ben & Jerry’s has proven that it’s willing to lose money in order to gain ground in the fight against injustice. And even though their credibility is bolstered by their history of political activism, you don’t need four decades of action to start making an impact today.
What you can learn
1. Actions speak louder than words.
As a copywriter, it’s tough to admit when words aren’t enough—but in this case, it’s absolutely true. When you want to demonstrate genuine support around an issue you’ve likely never addressed publicly, one social post—no matter how brilliantly-written—just isn’t going to cut it. With consumer trust as low as it is, we have to do more to convince our audiences that our support is genuine. To assure people that your solidarity isn’t just lip service, your message should a) address an issue directly, not vaguely and b) include a plan, report or specific example of your ongoing action. While many brands were busy drafting their “We stand with” statements, Ben & Jerry’s got to work creating well-researched videos, social graphics and blog posts to educate and empower their audience around important issues like transgender rights and racial discrimination in our justice system.
- Getting started: In the short-term, find some local and national nonprofit organizations that advance racial equity and justice you can donate your resources to. Then, take some time to reflect on what your company could be doing better to ensure your workplace and business are diverse, equitable and inclusive. Post about your plans, share what you’re learning and commit to making cause-related content a regular part of your publishing strategy moving forward.For the long-term, establish which issues your brand is most passionate about, and most closely align with your company’s values (if you’ve yet to establish company values, here’s a glimpse into our process). A good social listening tool will also help you find out which causes your customers care about to ensure your values are shared. Then create a plan for how you will champion that cause moving forward, and commit.
Defund the police, defend Black communities! This #Juneteenth, it’s more important than ever that we dismantle the racist and ineffective model of American policing. Learn more about how defunding the police works and why we so desperately need it: https://t.co/JLY6f0u5y3 pic.twitter.com/3UnML38dDx
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 19, 2020
2. We can do so much more together than we can on our own.
If any of those steps sound overwhelming, don’t worry. You don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. No one expects you to have all the answers. Most people understand that brands aren’t the premiere destination for expertise on social and political issues. But what you can do is reach out to some organizations already doing the work, and offer to partner together. Your platform alone could help increase awareness of their efforts, but also consider developing a campaign and lending the tools and resources you can to help further the cause you both share. That’s what Ben & Jerry’s did when they partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for 2020’s World Refugee Day. They used their platform to bring awareness to IRC and their efforts, and even published a post on their company blog with educational resources, links and ways to donate.
- Getting started: Find an organization or movement leader doing meaningful work for the cause you’re looking to champion. Reach out to see how you might establish a mutually beneficial partnership that will ensure your efforts are informed and guided in the right direction. Learn from them, and let them lead.
It's #WorldRefugeeDay! Join us and @RESCUEorg in celebrating refugees’ critical role as essential workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and demanding that world leaders take immediate action to protect their rights: https://t.co/eDmDdsVbGl pic.twitter.com/uytSI914sh
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 20, 2020
3. A united front starts at the top.
Building brand credibility requires honesty, authenticity and transparency. And one of the best ways to pull back the curtain at your company is to encourage your C-suite to open up on social. Research shows that more than half of consumers want CEOs to have a personal presence on social media–indicating that CEOs with personal profiles seem more approachable, accessible, human, honest and trustworthy. This is especially important when your brand wants to speak out on an issue. Your audience wants to know that the leaders and decision-makers of your company also share those same values. More than half (54%) of consumers believe a CEO and their company should hold the same position on public issues. If the two are in opposition, 19% of consumers say they’d be willing to boycott that brand.
The real-life Ben and Jerry—co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield—have been vocal about their values since they first started the company in 1978. Whether it’s on the street during a protest, in handcuffs after said protest, a statement on their website or personal story on their Twitter account, they consistently stand for and speak out about causes they believe in.
THREAD: One summer, when I was in college, I was stopped by the police for smoking pot. I ended up with a ticket for littering. Over the years I’ve thought about how things could have been different if I were black.
— Ben Cohen (@YoBenCohen) June 5, 2020
- Getting started: You don’t have to get arrested to prove that you’re passionate about a cause. But you do have to show up. If your CEO or founder isn’t on social, it’s time for them to start building a presence. If they already have a profile but stay silent on important issues, share that more than half (56%) of consumers say it’s important to them that a CEO takes a stand on public issues. And if they’re game, but need a little help developing a social strategy, here’s a guide we put together for getting your CEO started on social.
BONUS TIP: Stay committed.
It’s important to acknowledge that yes, Ben & Jerry’s has 42 years of allyship and activism under its belt, and social and corporate responsibility is in the DNA of their brand. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late for a brand who maybe up until now has remained relatively quiet. Start today and stay committed. Don’t just speak up in response to a crisis. Find what causes your company is passionate about and commit to doing the work day in and day out. You need to be in this for the long haul to build up that equity with your audience—and to effect real change in the world.
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