Case Study: The Flavor of Philanthropy: A Spunky Brand Goes Social in the Name of Peace, Love and Ice Cream

Company: Ben & Jerry's Agency: ViTrue Inc. Timeframe: April 2008-ongoing For such a young company by most standards, Ben & Jerry's has a long and storied history, having evolved from a small-town ice cream shop founded by two childhood friends-- Ben and Jerry, of course--to an international franchise that was acquired by multi-brand behemoth Unilever in 2000. But the happy-go-lucky, tree-hugging brand, known for its funky flavors and its "peace, love and ice cream" mantra, didn't convert to "corporate," despite the buttoned-up personality of its new parent company; rather, its leadership took great pains to stay true to Ben & Jerry's roots, tie-dye and all. Now, in light of the company's nontraditional approach to business success, its management team has one more thing to talk about: the launch of its newest philanthropic endeavor (along with that of its corollary, namesake ice cream flavor), "Imagine Whirled Peace." In addition to its noble mission--you guessed it: spreading the message of world peace--the campaign's creators took a quirky approach to get the attention of audiences of all shapes and flavors--an approach that led the scoop shop into the unknown. Imagine All The People The communications team members behind the "Imagine Whirled Peace" campaign knew they'd need something special to deliver its message to loyal fans while broadening the brand's consumer base to include a younger audience, and they found that missing link in John Lennon. The Beatle may have been felled by a gunman in 1980, but his commitment to promoting world peace lives on, both in his music ("Give Peace a Chance" became the ultimate antiwar ballad in 1969) and in charitable organizations that continue to spread his ideals. The Ben & Jerry's team, in conjunction with social media marketing firm ViTrue Inc., got permission from the John Lennon Estate to use his legacy as a backdrop for the campaign, both in terms of his music and his affiliation with the peace movement. Lennon's "spiritual" support was a step in the right direction, but the team needed a more tangible entity to give the initiative the depth it would need to have an impact. With this in mind, they partnered with Peace One Day, a nonprofit organization founded by actor-turned-filmmaker/humanitarian Jeremy Gilley. Among other positive outcomes, the organization's efforts led to the United Nations member states' unanimous adoption of Peace Day, which is observed each Sept. 21 and calls for a day of global ceasefire and nonviolence. "Ben & Jerry's wanted to honor Lennon's peace efforts as well as the current leaders in today's peace movement, Peace One Day, for creating the first ever cease-fire Peace Day," says Katie O'Brien, interactive marketing manager of Ben & Jerry's. "And, our new flavor that was launched with the campaign is a Lennon-inspired flavor made up of caramel and sweet cream ice cream, fudge peace signs and toffee cookie pieces." Ice Cream Social With Lennon's proverbial endorsement and Peace One Day's mission behind it, the communications team needed a vehicle for reaching its target audiences--Baby Boomers who are loyal Ben & Jerry's customers, and younger consumers who aren't as familiar with the brand, but who would identify well with its ideals. The team felt that the messages would resonant easily with Baby Boomers, given their generational connection to John Lennon and antiwar movements; however, the execs needed a way to inform and inspire their latter target, and they knew traditional approaches wouldn't cut it. "We're really passionate about what we do at Ben & Jerry's, [but] I think we're always challenged to find a way to have our passion shine through with the younger folks," says O'Brien. Of course, the obvious channel for reaching this audience is social media but, surprisingly, Ben & Jerry's' creative branding approaches had not yet made the leap to digital. The "One Sweet Whirled" integrated marketing campaign would include a robust social media element to engage consumers and prompt enduring conversations. Express Yourself Ben & Jerry's already had a number of ingredients essential to business success: loyal followers, a strong brand identity, a laundry list of past successful social responsibility initiatives (among them, partnering with nonprofit organizatin ONE to fight AIDS and poverty worldwide, devoting resources toward government subsidies for small- scale family farmers and raising awareness of global warming), and a new, high-impact cause with a iconic legend associated with it. Integrating social media platforms into the marketing campaign would bring all these assets together, and it would take Ben & Jerry's to the next level in terms of engaging and empowering a new audience. "Giving consumers a voice and outlet to share the brand is becoming a logical and natural extension of every communication initiative, and it will become table stakes for marketers of all sizes," says Reggie Bradford, CEO of ViTrue. But, he says this with a caveat: "Social media initiatives need to tie to the brand's long-term strategy by being tied to the integrated marketing plan, being in the brand's voice and [having] the propensity to become self-sustaining." Realizing that all of these elements needed to be considered before "Imagine Whirled Peace" went from analog to digital, the team paid extra attention to building the social media component around the Ben & Jerry's brand, and not vice versa. The crux of the online piece, then, centered around ViTrue's mosaic application, which is an engaging user display option that takes tiny, user-generated images and creates one cohesive image--in this case, a peace sign. (Mosaics are often seen in the form of tiny, colored tiles that, when you step back, paint a clear picture; other iterations include the use of up-close, thumbnail-size head shots that are arranged to represent one aggregate face.) Using the corporate Web site as a starting point, the team built a microsite within it ( that enabled users to upload their own "message of peace," which is then added to the peace sign mosaic. By scrolling over the peace sign, users can click on a specific thumbnail to get a photo of the "peacemaker," along with their personal statement of what peace means. The microsite also hosts information about the partnership with Peace One Day, as well as another nod to Lennon: information about a modern-day bed-in for peace, which is modeled after Lennon and Yoko Ono's legendary 1969 bed-in and recognizes leaders in today's peace movement. This year, the event took place on May 27. Peace-Ing It All Together Despite Ben & Jerry's relative inexperience with digital communications platforms, the effort has proven to be successful, at least in terms of staying true to the brand identity and engaging a new generation of consumers. As for the ice cream maker's loyalists, the team promoted the campaign by sending a release to its database of "Chunk Mail" subscribers. "[Imagine Whirled Peace] was our first foray into user-generated social media for marketing," O'Brien says. "We think the experience has been positive--it's certainly achieved our goal of further building our relationships with our loyalists and expanding our reach into the online medium in a very experiential and 'Ben & Jerry's way." Of course, there are also metrics that support the campaign's qualitative success: Visitors to the microsite submitted more than 1,200 images pledging a passion for peace; Nearly 70,000 people have clicked to view the individual images that make up the mosaic; and, The average time spent on the site is 5.5 minutes--an eternity in terms of advertising/marketing. More important, though, is the confidence this program's success has given the Ben & Jerry's team to embrace social media marketing. The company is continuing its partnership with ViTrue to create an interactive campaign around Ben & Jerry's' 30th anniversary. "[At Ben & Jerry's], we're all about peace, music and, of course, ice cream," O'Brien says. "We feel we brought more people closer to that feeling through social media." PRN CONTACTS: Reggie Bradford, Viable--And Viral--Partnerships Agency-client relationships can be matches made in heaven--or hell. Reggie Bradford, CEO of ViTrue, offers these tips when trying to build a healthy partnership: Be quick on your feet: "There is a need for operational efficiencies for the agencies and marketers. Clients need solutions that help them activate programs based on the here and now. We have seen many [PR or newsworthy event] opportunities missed due to the fact that clients have not been able to pull the trigger in less than eight to 12 weeks." Don't cash in your chips too early: "When programs end, they should not be closed down. There is valuable data that has been collected and should be used for additional marketing efforts back to the consumer." Play nicely: "Collaboration is a key ingredient. Find the right partners to bring together key stakeholders from media buying to creative houses, from PR to the client's internal resources." Social Media Marketing Best Practices Yes, everybody is doing it--incorporating social media into marketing campaigns--but that doesn't mean everyone is doing it right. Connecting a brand and its messages with target audiences in an authentic way is essential to ongoing success. "From a best practices standpoint, providing the brand's assets for consumers to enjoy and develop further should be done in a manner that promotes safe environments, but that gives consumers freedom to drive campaigns virally and is also tied to the media buy," says Reggie Bradford, CEO of Vitrue, the social media marketing agency that partnered with Ben & Jerry's on its "Imagine Whirled Peace" campaign. He offers these additional best practices: Strategic integration: Tie the social media initiative to long-term strategy. Experience: Create a compelling end-user experience. Distribution: Ensure that the experience can be easily shared. Safety: Guarantee that the company can brand the content that's being posted. Ownership: Make sure the brand owns valuable assets and can repurpose them across platforms.

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