EDITORIAL: B&J image could ambush Unilever

Unilever’s dollars 326 million acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s is a bold move.

Unilever’s dollars 326 million acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s is a bold move.

Unilever’s dollars 326 million acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s is a

bold move.



The question on everyone’s lips: will Ben & Jerry’s stay true to its

original charter now that it’s owned by a dollars 43 billion consumer

products behemoth?



Unilever certainly seems to have worked hard to convey positive

messages, prompting The New York Times to declare that Ben & Jerry’s was

going ’To Unilever with Attitude.’ B&J will also, we are told, donate

7.5% of its pre-tax profits to charity, be run as a separate company

(still in Arlington, VT) and have a separate board of directors. Ben &

Jerry’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, will even be employed

as ’caring capitalism’ ambassadors, traveling to Unilever outposts

worldwide and preaching the gospel of a three part mission - social

concerns, product quality and profits, according to Ben & Jerry’s CEO

Perry Odak.



Ben & Jerry’s is one of the most brilliant examples of cause-related

marketing of all time. It retained its wholesome image long after it had

become a publicly owned corporation, and in spite of the fact that its

ice cream uses as many ’natural’ flavorings and essences as other

premium-brand ice creams.



As Unilever Food North America president Richard Goldstein said: ’Much

of the success of Ben & Jerry’s brand is based on its connections to

basic human values, and it is our hope and expectation that Ben &

Jerry’s continues to engage in these critical global economic and social

missions.’



But while Ben & Jerry’s fans concern themselves with the long-term

commitment of Unilever, an all-important by-product of the deal seems to

have been ignored: the effect on Unilever. Such is the emotive nature of

the Ben & Jerry’s brand that Unilever risks exposing itself to a lot of

future scrutiny in its other businesses.



Anything unwholesome within Unilever - layoffs, exploitation,

globalization, not to mention the quality of its products - could well

be headlined as a ’Ben & Jerry’s parent company’ problem. The corporate

communications department has got lots of work to do to ensure that

Unilever considers this in everything it does.



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