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


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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in