Even the right message doesn’t resonate when it comes from the wrong messenger.
Take, for instance, Tuesday’s statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement . . . from Colin Kaepernick’s former NFL team, who never stood behind his protests.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) June 2, 2020
The 49ers’ tweet was in keeping with a flurry of similar messages whose sole credit was not being as clumsy as Pepsi’s awkward paean to activism with Kendall Jenner.
A few hours later, though, Ben & Jerry’s tweeted out what is far and away the strongest message from a brand since George Floyd’s death in police custody Memorial Day weekend.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 2, 2020
More than a simple tweet or a black tile on Instagram or even a donation, Ben & Jerry’s included a statement with a four-point plan toward dismantling white supremacy, including specific legislation people might advocate on behalf of. The company’s message eschews clichés and “Kumbaya” sing-alongs to get to the heart of the matter in unflinching fashion:
“What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning. What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is the fruit borne of toxic seeds planted on the shores of our country in Jamestown in 1619, when the first enslaved men and women arrived on this continent. Floyd is the latest in a long list of names that stretches back to that time and that shore. Some of those names we know — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Jr. — most we don’t.”
Even if this messaging were Ben & Jerry’s first foray into activism, it would be commendable in its eloquence, boldness, and depth. Of course, this isn’t the company’s first rodeo. It’s not even the company’s first message about Black Lives Matter. That would be this statement from 2016, which included an article featuring seven ways to know that systemic racism is a very real problem.
This company doesn’t just release ice cream flavors encouraging the end of structural racism—although they do indeed do that. They also walk the walk.
It’s something the brand has become known for nearly as much as they’re known for Chunky Monkey. The proof is in the way Twitterers responded to the message. Aside from the usual brand of detractors condemning their stance, or trying to out-woke them, Ben & Jerry’s seemed to have the corporate statement most difficult to dunk on.
As usual, Ben & Jerry is the only corporate messaging worth reading https://t.co/hcBzvp1Djn
— KB (@KaraRBrown) June 2, 2020
I was taken aback, in a good way, when I worked with B&J as a diversity and inclusion fellow. They dug in, asked for real talk, listened to Black women, and put up the fucking money to better educate their employees about these issues. https://t.co/vR4JFuovIy
— Kiana Fitzgerald (@KianaFitz) June 2, 2020
Imagine ice cream brought the change we need… my very good freezer friends Ben and Jerry be bring the heat… the link leads their stance https://t.co/WtHyNwAvLg
— nicole byer (@nicolebyer) June 2, 2020
I didn't think a good corporate statement could exist, but I also didn't think Cherry Garcia could be sold by the slice, and they proved me wrong then too https://t.co/PRrUwFBKEn
— Chase Mitchell (@ChaseMit) June 3, 2020
If all your corporation/business posted was just a black box with words and vague notions on racism, use this statement as an example of a meaningful way to speak up & take action. https://t.co/xZ26p5nuX0
— LaToya Morgan (@MorganicInk) June 2, 2020
Anyone who’s been paying attention to the ice cream maker for a while knows that Ben & Jerry’s lives its values loudly, aided by a corporate activism manager who previously worked for Greenpeace and Bernie Sanders. In the past, the company has supported progressive causes such as gun control, women’s rights, and marriage equality, with a special emphasis on global climate change.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 2, 2017
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) December 8, 2015
The recipe for brands to build activist credibility with the general public is simple: Be on the right side of progressive issues for many years, get your own house in order whenever necessary, and be specific and effusive about what your support actually entails. Inventing Cherry Garcia doesn’t hurt either, though.