There are two men in my life whom I can always count on, who have not once let me down—and their names are Ben and Jerry. For as long as I can remember, I have had an unusually strong passion and reverence for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, so much so that it has become one of my defining character traits. During my freshman year of college, for example, new friends would sometimes remember my Ben & Jerry’s obsession before they could remember from what state I hailed. But, in the words of Professor Kane, I digress.
In addition to its supreme quality ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s has a widely recognizable and favorable brand image. In the past few years, it has extended its messages through its winning social media presence. In 2013, Ben & Jerry’s partnered up with 360i, the digital agency responsible for social media successes such as Oreo, and has since delivered consistent streams of perfectly branded content. Here are the key ingredients to the brand’s social media strategy:
Whether used in humor, consumer targeting, or political commentary, subtlety often packs the most successful punch. Ben & Jerry’s’ playful, image-driven approach to social media never fails to employ this principle.
Not at all hindered by Twitter’s 140-character limit, Ben & Jerry’s constantly uploads cleverly orchestrated images along with punny one liners. The images grab our attention as we scroll through our newsfeeds, and the small, quickly digestible witticisms make us pause to offer mental kudos to the brand.
Ben & Jerry’s also uses SM to cleverly target specific consumer segments in a fun, unobtrusive way. As a college student, I see messages like these as attempts to empathize with me and relate to me as a consumer, rather than as pestering promotional materials. Subconsciously, however, I am reminded that there is no better way to handle a finals week breakdown than by stress-eating my favorite dessert.
Cunning subtlety can work wonders for engaging in a social or political conversation in an inoffensive and tasteful manner, allowing a brand to maintain its integrity. Ben & Jerry’s hilarious tweet regarding Colorado’s legalization of the recreational use of marijuana reached incredibly high numbers of retweets and favorites compared to its typical earnings of no more than a few hundred. Ben & Jerry’s clearly knocked it out of the park, and with a topic that could have easily incited a social media blunder.
For any brand, it is important to participate in the current conversations populating social media, and in ways that simultaneously promote the brand itself. Ben & Jerry’s always makes sure it gets a word in, no matter how trivial or obscure the conversation.
Here, Ben & Jerry’s brilliantly leverages its product in an obligatory holiday post that stands out from the rest. All I can say is, bravo.
And here they go again. Ben & Jerry’s pays attention to trending hashtags, and manages to tie itself so perfectly to even those that would seem totally unrelated to its brand or product.
With flavors like “Phish Food” and “Cherry Garcia,” Ben & Jerry’s has always affiliated its brand with music-loving culture.
Through pop culture references, as well as appearances at festivals and concerts, Ben & Jerry’s has positioned itself to win the hearts of middle-aged ex-hippies and hipster college kids alike.
It has also formed lasting relationships with celebrity sponsors such as Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, further advancing its brand image.
Since its inception in 1978, Ben & Jerry’s has aligned its brand with fair trade practices, social corporate responsibility, and left-leaning political causes, so it has no reason to shy away from social and political activism as other brands might for fear of alienating consumers. The brand dedicates the majority of its social media activity to serving various political agendas and advocating for social causes, rather than to advertising and promotion. The key to pulling off such an adamant and active civic voice on social media exists in the genuineness of a brand’s efforts. Companies can differentiate themselves well in the digital sphere by taking up causes that align with their brands, as long as their efforts do not come across as transparent, insincere marketing ploys.
Fun and games
Ben & Jerry’s also masterfully employs the social media engagement techniques we have all come to know and love. For a brand that doesn’t have to take itself too seriously, the possibilities are endless.
Ben & Jerry’s has used the hashtag #pintproblems regularly over the past year, encouraging Twitter followers to share their stories, because “We’ve all experienced a moment of anguish when it comes to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.” It’s silly, it’s cheesy, yet it’s completely relatable—and that’s coming from an experienced Ben & Jerry’s consumer. For example, I have in fact suffered the traumatic event depicted in the above screenshot (can’t say I ditched the roommate, though).
Ben & Jerry’s understands that it does not just need to market itself to consumers, but to potential employees as well. Demonstrating the perks of working at a company can help to grow the talent pool from which it has to choose.
Ben & Jerry’s has made efforts to differentiate its social media accounts to cater to the different cultures it serves around the world—something its competitors (cough, cough, Haagen-Dazs) have failed to do. This allows the company to deliver geographically specific news and information and to communicate that information properly.
It’s really no surprise that the branding genius that is Ben & Jerry’s has extended its marketing prowess into the social media sphere, and its manual for developing a digital presence could certainly benefit a number of B2C businesses.
– Emily Olander