Ben & Jerry’s head of activism: Brands will be criticised for taking a stand

Ben & Jerry’s is a brand that is unafraid to take a stand on political issues and famously slammed the UK government over its handling of refugees last year.

However, the ice cream giant’s head of activism and social mission Rebecca Baron told MAD//Anywhere attendees last month that brands taking a stand will attract criticism from some consumers.

“With progression comes pushback,” she says. “Everytime we put anything out about our social mission or our activism work we get criticism from folks saying 'I don't want politics with my ice cream’ or ‘step off American brand, don't tell us what to do'”. 

“I'm willing to take that criticism. I'm fine if people don't buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because we take a stand on refugee rights or Black Lives Matter.  I'm not willing to be criticised for something that is tone deaf or staying silent when you should speak up.”

However, Baron says the brand’s fans love the fact that it takes a stand on political issues and doing so ultimately has a positive impact on business performance.

“We think and hope we're driving change for the movements we're a part of and we know our fans love us for doing that so they buy our ice cream more.”

However, she warns brands not to jump on political causes solely to drive sales as consumers see through by inauthentic actions.

“The paradox here is if you do this work because you want to sell more ice cream, you will fail. People will see through what you're doing.

“You have to be committed to the greater cause in order to drive change and then you will get loved for it.  It will only really work well if you're in it for the long haul. People notice if you pick up issues and drop them and jump on bandwagons.”

Attended by over 3,000 global marketing leaders, MAD//Anywhere featured 147 speakers over two days including Ogilvy Vice-chair Rory Sutherland, Dishoom Co-founder Shamil Thakrar, Eve Sleep CEO Cheryl Calverley and Purple Bricks CMO Ben Carter. Sessions are available to watch on-demand on the MAD//Fest YouTube channel.