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Socially responsible branding revisited: ben and jerry’s and the body shop

May 2, 2005

Two of the early 1990s icon brands for social responsibility, were The Body Shop and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Now, over 15 years later, both these companies are still around and to a certain degree, thriving.

Ben and Jerry’s is now owned by Unilever, who has brought discipline and structure to the company. In addition, they have placed a premium on innovation. Recently, the company introduced a new range of ice cream based entirely on mood.

However, despite the ownership of a large multi-national, Ben and Jerry’s emphasis on social responsibility has not been diminished and in some respects its gotten stronger. Under Unilever, its introduced a range of organic ice-creams and just launched a Fair-Trade line.

It also continues to increase their efforts beyond the product line, last week it launched the world’s first climate change college designed to educate people on the science of the issue.

The Body Shop is a brand that has been through troubled times, but it now sees some light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the recent Made with Passion re-positioning effort.

There could have easily been a temptation to dial back the company’s ethical and responsible stance, instead it’s still there, but unlike the past, these efforts form only the foundation of the product story.

Wisely, the company has understood it needs to compete in the marketplace, and its products need to perform, because mass consumers will not buy only on the ethical dimension. Consequently, the company has announced its intent to compete in the “masstiege” category and is launching 250 new products in order to make this happen.

Both these icon companies arrived at a time when social concerns were enough to drive purchase; they made their mark because of this. However, this initial spark was not enough to sustain a business for the long term. The products had to perform and the brands needed to be relevant. However, recent developments at both companies show that its possible to achieve this, without compromising their core values.

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