Monday, October 17, 2005

Ben & Jerry's Return to Social Activism (or do they?)

According to an article in Today's USA Today, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream is launching a new Television ad campaign that will profile social issues that are important to the company. The first television spot will profile a small family-run farming operation and seek to educate Americans about the consequences of industrial farming operations. This issue is near and dear to my heart and the consolidation of farming operations has far more damning consequences than just economic loss. But is this new form of "cause-linkage" to be applauded as the next step in cause marketing or is it bordering on crass?

Ben & Jerry's was one of the first mainstream socially-responsible businesses. By the accounts I've read, despite being bought by Unilever, they've managed to retain many of the same practices and values whilst growing the size and scale of their business. So if any company wants to lead with a social activism campaign over something that is also an important business issue, I suppose it should be B&J. So let's give Ben & Jerry's the benefit of the doubt and take them seriously in their activism. This means that we should expect them to create the resources by which their consumers can take a stand on this issue. And by take a stand, I don't mean just buying more Ben & Jerry's:
What actions will you ask your customers to take in support of this issue? What are the objectives of this campaign? How will you ensure longevity beyond initial awareness?

If a brand is going to become active in a specific campaign, it must eventually demonstrate the campaign's success. I fear that this is purely a positioning play positing Ice Cream made from small farmer's operations "good" whereas others (made from industrial operations) are bad. Support your farmer: Buy Ben & Jerry's has a nice ring to it and will likely work as brand positioning but if this is the crux of the campaign, it will forever label Ben & Jerry's a sell-out and worse insincere. Can the innovators of Social Responsibility pave the way for how a brand leads a social activism campaign? Let's hope so.

Recently, Adidas released the 25th Anniversary Terry Fox Limited Edition Replica Shoe. Profits of the shoe were donated to the Terry Fox Foundation and raised over $500,000 for Cancer Research but in my mind, Adidas took advantage of a Canadian Hero who had purposefully rejected advertising or sponsorship when he was alive. Now, Adidas has managed to link its brand to one of Canada's most treasured icons for a drop in the bucket. I'm disappointed with the Terry Fox Foundation for allowing such a deal and furthermore for selling the linkage so cheaply! The deal should at least been a multi-year deal with hard cash commitments from Adidas to the Foundation regardless of whether they have a shoe to hawk.

The problem with these cause marketing deals is that they work. By buying a pair of sneakers, I'm able to say I support cancer research and by buying slightly more expensive ice cream, I'm able to say I support local farmers. But as soon as that item has rung through the till what's the likelihood that the consumer will give further thought to that cause? A good cause marketing campaign needs to have sustained communication with the audience past the point-of-sale. I don't see that happening, at least not in a way that continues to focus the communication on the cause.

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