Small Farms – Ben & Jerry’s

by Jeanne

Life is ironic and if you get really good at it you become cynical.  If you work in marketing while working on your life skills in this area you become jaded. Which brings me to the new Ben & Jerry’s ad campaign.  The $5MM campaign strategy is designed to revive its socially consciousness tradition beginning with its first TV ad campaign in a decade. The ads focus on issues, not ice cream.

The first of five tv spots is airing now. That I saw it at all in this dismal TV season is something. The TV spot is focused on saving small family farms. My heartstrings (cynics and marketing people believe it or not can also be manipulated if you hit their core personal values) were sufficiently pulled.  I may have even applauded at the close of the first viewing as I thought of all those in America who would now be enlighted to look for small, local farms and farmers markets.  In the ad, a diary farmer, who it turns out is one of the 520 farms in the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery that supplies milk to B&J, talks about his farm in Addison, Vt., where he and his wife and kids operate a 50-cow dairy.  It also reveals that the farm is losing business due to government subsidies to big factory farms.

Then I saw it again, and again and again.  Something started to bother me.  Oh right, I thought, B&J was bought by Unilever (in 2000), a  ginormous food conglomerate.

USA Today, had an interview with the current B&J’s CEO, Walt Freese, stated, "Our social mission is built into our business. We’re focused on making the best ice cream, a fair financial return and being a force for social and economic justice and the environment. That’s as important to us as profitability and product quality."

In an WSJ op-ed piece by Stephen Moore, who is a member  of their editorial board, he writes that their factor , "is a monument to the efficiencies of capitalism and technological progress: Several dozen giant computer-operated machines churn out hundreds of thousands of cartons a day." He continues: "I half expect the massive energy-gulping freezers to be solar-paneled or powered by green-friendly windmills, but no, they use lots and lots of conventional electricity. It turns out that if you want really good ice cream, you just have to tolerate a little more global warming," adding: "That’s a trade-off that I personally am willing to make."

And damn it while I believe in the message that is being sent, ultimately I’m being manipulated. But is this image manipulation? Should I be just OK with the fact that they are raising awareness of the very real problem of dwindling numbers of small family farms?  Is it enough for a socially conscious business who says it advocates for the environment not be investing in improving their ecological footprint? Is this greenwashing now that they are own my a huge corporation.  Does Unilever really care about small family farms?  Are they craftily manipulating all of us with this issue with the B&J brand?  Should I not worry that by building demand for their ice cream through this campaign they’ll be selling more ice cream at the expense of the environment?  Certainly Daddy has the bucks for them to become the model ice cream factory. How much is enough and when is enough not enough?   And this someone who cares about the small farm, the environment and works in marketing.   Well the message is out there either way.  It’s a fact that small farms are in trouble.  said the optimist.  Well, I think it’s all very ironic and conflicted, said the cynic.

View the "Small Farms"commercial  (bottom right hand corner)