The Most Loveable Brand on Social Media

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:

Subtlety

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Relevance

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.

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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.

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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.

Cultural affiliation

With flavors like “Phish Food” and “Cherry Garcia,” Ben & Jerry’s has always affiliated its brand with music-loving culture.

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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.

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It has also formed lasting relationships with celebrity sponsors such as Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, further advancing its brand image.

Activism

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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.

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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).

Recruiting

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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.

Global thinking

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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

11 comments

  1. Love this post, Emily! It’s crazy how wide-reaching Ben & Jerry’s marketing strategy is, all taking place in the same voice and utilizing the same platforms. From timely images/tweets to educating about activism, they’ve definitely maintained their brand across the board. I also like how they have a variety of user-generated-looking content as well as posts that are more formally created by the company. The UGC makes the brand seem more accessible and easy to engage with, while images with that iconic font really keep the company’s historical branding top of mind.

  2. Social media is PERFECT for Ben & Jerry’s and kudos to them for doing it right. This is a company that has fiercely relied on word of mouth marketing as opposed to spending huge sums of cash on television advertisements and other traditional forms of marketing. Whether its outdoor promotions, or experiential campaigns, they’ve always been a “our product is good enough to sell itself” type of brand, and their social strategy really proves that. I’ve even seen them advertising these witty posts on Instagram and other social channels, which seems like a perfect fit for their identity. They’re just being in the conversation, keeping their brand on people’s minds, and never shilling pints with “BUY OUR PINTS NOW” type of posts. Well done.

  3. Really great post. We had a Ben & Jerry’s parlor in my hometown growing up, and I spent WAY too much time there. This really emphasizes to me that companies with good cultures really thrive on social, because it shows through easily. Those without good cultures really struggle with SM.

  4. Awesome post! I’m not familiar with Ben & Jerry’s branding on social media, but your post convinced me to follow them! I really like the fact that they can bring in social and political issues without offending their followers, which can be hard to do. It seems like they really create meaningful content and have a strong emotional connection with their consumers. Witty posts rather than repetitive product-pushing really set them apart!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post! And now, despite it being a frigid fall day, I could go for a pint. This is an excellent example of product and social presence both excelling. And like Michael says, they really do get it right. Some brands are just fun to follow, and I think that Ben and Jerry really do a great job of keeping it mellow, relatable and relevant while also conveying a consistent message of how their product really is that much better. This is successful differentiation at its tastiest and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

  6. Great example of another company really doing social right! They are truly fearless in their strategy, and are not afraid to offend consumers. The loyalty they have accumulated around their product has granted them the scale to jump on political subjects and react to real time events without so much worry. The risks they take certainly have sparked conversations around their strategy, attention is attention! Additionally, as I mentioned in my blog post regarding native advertising, they are doing a great job testing the waters on paid promotions. They understand the need to fit into the form and function of each platform in order to blend into the user experience. Ben & Jerry’s is always ready to innovate their strategy, and they know how to do it well. I personally love their sense of humor and enjoy following them even though I may not consume their product as much as I feed my frozen yogurt obsession. However, because I have build up a brand affinity towards them, I am definitely more inclined to treat myself to a Ben & Jerry’s pint over Haagen-Daz.

  7. Hi Olivia great post!! I had no idea Ben & Jerry’s has such a strong social media presence and they seem to have really figured it out from a business prospective! They are definitely convey their brand well across social media and it is clear they have a consistent voice across the different platforms. Ben & Jerry’s knows their customer’s well and their social media strategy is great in connecting with their customers. I especially liked how they were able to make connections to real life happenings via their tweets. The shark week tweet is hilarious. So awesome that Ben & Jerry’s can really thrive on social and have definitely taken advantage of the emotional connection their customers have with their brand!

  8. This is awesome! I am a massive Ben & Jerry’s fan but for some reason, never followed them on any social media outlets. It appears they do an amazing job of translating the experience of buying, eating, and going into a Ben & Jerry’s shop right into their social presence. It’s awesome because they have created a campaign that covers such a vast array of topics, and their product is so essentially simple. They don’t try to go deeper and make their brand into something it’s not, which is what makes their social strategy so successful! It’s fun, quickly digestible, and humourous.

  9. This is such a enjoyable read, Emily! And you made me wanna get a pint right away. I really liked your insight into how Ben& Jerry standout among text-heavy tweets through its orchestrated images and punny liners, which indeed got my attention easily and a good takeaway for other brands. I also liked how it instill the real personality into the brand by choosing a side in political or social issues rather than being lukewarm. Though such playful brand image will certainly require more effort to keep a good balance between subtlety and misuse. An earlier news reporting Ben& Jerry apologized for its release of Taste the Lin-Sanity flavor that contained lychee honey swirls and fortune cookie pieces that offended some of the fans of the Asia-American basketball player Jeremy Line by somehow drawing connection between the him and Asian stereotype. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/ben-jerrys-apologizes-linsanity_n_1303691.html. This might not be Ben&Jerry’s purposefully intension but still got backlash on social media.

  10. Great post, Emily! I agree with others that Ben & Jerry’s does a great job standing out among text heavy SM posts, and does well with creating clever images to promote their brand. They area also very obviously aware of how necessary it is to keep a strong, genuine, and coherent voice across platforms.
    What really impressed me from your post is how Ben & Jerry’s does such a good job of getting in on conversations online that don’t necessarily deal with ice cream or their brand, but they somehow turn their posts or comments on the topics at hand into witty promotional tools for their products. Smart and engaging presence on social like that of Ben & Jerry’s is definitely noteworthy.

  11. Emily, thanks for posting. I love this brand of ice cream for so many reasons! yes they are delicious and their fun flavors are endlessly creative. They care about the environment as well as social issues outside the realm of the food industry. Their announcement to make all the ingredients in their ice cream fair trade is even another reason to love them. I held an event earlier this year for MBA’s where a representative from B&J brought us ice cream and spoke about their fair trade initiatives w/ Fair Trade Boston. It is common for this company to host events like these, lucky we were able to host them!

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