It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.
In many ways, the last 12 months has been the ultimate ice cream year. Everyone has been stuck indoors, seeking shelter and frozen creature comforts – an entire planet of Bridget Joneses. According to parent firm Unilever, sales are way up and have “more than offset the decline in out-of-home ice-cream sales“.
But Ben & Jerry’s isn’t significant for simply being in the right place at the right time, or for reaping the benefits of its category-leading position. More important in 2020 has been its activism, which has been so consistent, proactive and true to the company’s principles that it to call it ’brand purpose’ does it a disservice.
“There are moments in the course of history when it’s important to stand up and be counted,” Ben & Jerry’s global head of activism Christopher Miller told The Drum in June. Then, that meant standing above the crowd of brands posting black squares to their social channels and instead issuing a call for Americans to “dismantle white supremacy“ and “grapple with the past“. At the same time, the company began lobbying the US Congress to create a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination from 1619 to the present day, as well as supporting calls from the family of George Floyd to create a national anti-racist taskforce.
Much of that effort was led by Miller, who joined the brand in 2012 and has worked since then as its chief executive ’rabble rouser’ – a role, he argues, every brand that wants to serve a purpose beyond profit should employ.
His work hasn’t just been in reacting to the news cycle, of course. This year saw the company propel its cannabis decriminalisation campaign onwards – and while the company admits the cause is likely to be popular among its customer base which “skews white“, the campaign has focused on the racial injustice embedded in narcotics laws across the US as much as on repealing the plant’s prohibition.
Ben & Jerry’s also partnered up with Fairtrade to boost the incomes of its cocoa farmer suppliers, voluntarily paying its suppliers in Cote d’Ivoire more in order to help them achieve a living wage.
All this pays off in the end; not just in column inches of earned media, but in the health of its brand. The dairy brand saw a rise in purchase consideration and purchasing intent after it publicly criticised British home secretary Priti Patel’s deportation policies in the summer.
This is all helped by the brand’s own history; its roots in hippyish Vermont have given it a tone of voice and personality that speaks to consumers authentically about matters other than Cookies n’ Cream. But its success in marrying real corporate campaigning with good business sense owes even more to its genuine – and unrestrained – language, and the license provided to continue its political work by Unilever. More skittish CPG companies would surely have stepped back from speaking out against the police.
We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on thedrum.com between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.