Why Business Needs To Integrate A More Activist Mindset

  • 3 months ago
  • 5 Minutes to Read
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With global social and ecological crises, businesses must step up and use their voice as a force for good. Companies have so much power in positively impacting society by addressing pressing issues and contributing to positive change.

At our latest event, our Account Director Chloe Tuck chatted with Kerry Thorpe, the Head of Communications at Ben & Jerry’s and Rory Atton, the Founder of Dewerstone, about their companies’ journeys towards a more activist mindset.

Credit: Luc Lacey – www.luclacey.com

Meet the speakers

Kerry Thorpe from Ben & Jerry’s  

First, we heard from Kerry Thorpe, a marketing specialist who has overseen the communications of the iconic ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s for nearly a decade. Kerry started by sharing the two guiding mantras that have run through Ben & Jerry’s veins from the beginning: ‘Give back to the community within which you operate and have fun while you do it’.

In the 80s, the brand even put this philosophy into its Statement of Mission: they want to make brilliant ice cream and ensure everyone who encounters the business gets a fair slice of the pie. ‘Every dollar we spend is an opportunity to act on our values,’ Kerry said. Be it the brownies which are made from fair-trade ingredients used in their ice creams, the company is mindful of every part of its supply chain. Today, the brand’s social mission is ‘to operate the company in a way that actively recognises the central role that business plays in society, by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.’

Their social mission is split into three main pillars across different regions: racial equality in the US, refugee rights in the UK & Europe and climate justice as a broader international focus. Kerry explained the need to stay focused on each social issue. The communications team work closely with their Activist Managers in each region, ensuring a strategic plan is dedicated to each pillar.

44 Years of Being Bold at Ben & Jerry’s

Guided by its social mission, Ben & Jerry’s uses their position as a globally recognised brand with extensive reach and huge influence to act on their values. ‘Using the same skills and tools we have to market a product, we can simultaneously sell our customers an idea.’ Kerry stresses the equal importance of a good product and a social mission: ‘If we didn’t make brilliant ice cream, people wouldn’t take us seriously.’

Kerry shared some great examples of campaigns that showcase Ben & Jerry’s passion for using their ice cream as a tool for activism. From the ‘1% for Peace’ pots that advocated for national funding of peace-promoting activities in 1987, ‘Lick Global Warming’ campaign in 2002 to the ‘Hubby Hubby’ ice cream in support of gay marriage in 2011. Most recently, in 2023, Ben & Jerry’s joined the mission to end modern slavery in cocoa farming with Tony’s Chocolonely. To celebrate their commitment to this cause, they launched an ice-cream flavour and chocolate bar called ‘Chocolately Love A-fair’.

Through social media campaigns and exciting product packaging, Ben & Jerry’s galvanise their followers into caring about their ice cream and important issues. Kerry pointed out, ‘We’ve gone where other brands are probably afraid to go’.

Credit: Luc Lacey – www.luclacey.com

Rory Atton from Dewerstone

Next, we heard from Rory Atton, the Founder of outdoor lifestyle clothing brand and certified B Corp, Dewerstone. Rory shared with the audience his perspective on activism from the lens of a smaller, more local organisation. 

Dewerstone is located in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, just a couple hours south of our home here in Bristol. Rory named the clothing brand after the Dewerstone, a giant rock formation on the outskirts of the Dartmoor National Park. In the early days of launching Dewerstone, Rory printed t-shirts in his garage in the Plym Valley. He could look out from the window between each print run and admire the beautiful granite crags of the Dewerstone rock.

If you haven’t managed to take a trip to the magic moorland, wild flowing rivers and ancient woodlands of Dartmoor, we highly recommend it! This stunning natural landscape situated in the West Country is what inspired Rory to build a business that fostered an intrinsic relationship to protecting it.

So, naturally, when a landowner attempted to revoke the wild camping rights in the National Park in December 2022 – the very place where Dewerstone was born – Rory did not hesitate to take action through his brand. Rory and his team at Dewerstone called for their followers to learn about the issues surrounding land access rights and encouraged them to join them in attending peaceful gatherings.

Rory emphasised how important it is for brands to use their influence not just for themselves and their products but also for people without a voice and important causes.

Credit: Luc Lacey – www.luclacey.com

Our key takeaways

Speak up early

If you’re passionate about a cause, you need to be involved early; don’t just shout about an issue when it’s popular. ‘While certain brands may join the trend after it has reached its tipping point in popularity, Ben & Jerry’s aims to be at the forefront from the outset.’ Kerry explained the importance of the brand’s social mission remaining clear, consistent and active all year round. ‘There is no quick win; you just need to keep at it.’

 

Partner with experts 

Rory acknowledges that his team at Dewerstone don’t always have expertise in the issues they feel passionate about. He explained the importance of partnering with NGOs with expertise. The Dewerstone team proudly partners with the NGO Save Our Rivers, which fights to give everyone a voice regarding the future of wild rivers and National Parks. Dewerstone donates 1% of their profits through 1% for the Planet and regularly organises river cleans, water quality monitoring and litter picks across Dartmoor.

Similarly, Ben and Jerry’s has internal Activism Managers across eight countries. Their job is to connect with NGOs and movement builders to understand how they can help drive progressive change.  One way to ensure you are positively impacting a movement is to work closely with people with the expertise and lived experience. If the communications team at Ben & Jerry’s are unsure about speaking up about an issue, they ask themselves, ‘Are we helpful, or are we a distraction?’

 

Stay focused and be real

Often, brands conduct surveys with their fans to find out what they care about and fit their marketing around that specific cause. This strategy enhances the brand’s relatability to its customers, often resulting in a larger market share within its target audience. However, Ben and Jerry’s is unafraid to do it the other way around. ‘We start with what we care about and encourage our fans to care too. The goal is not to make Ben & Jerry’s look better,’ said Kerry. 

 

Joy and justice

Use your tone of voice to have fun and break down serious issues. For example, Ben & Jerry’s renamed their mint chocolate ice cream ‘EnageMint Party’ to encourage people to take action to support marriage equality in Ireland. Kerry suggests, ‘Bring a serious message to your politicians and fans in a fun way!’

 

Be bold

‘Most people who come to work at Ben & Jerry’s – sure, they like ice cream, but they come for that activism mindset,’ Kerry observed. At Ben & Jerry’s, team members are encouraged to embrace failures. There is even a graveyard of ice cream flavours that never made it to market! By embracing the fact that we all fail, team members can be bolder. ‘With progression comes pushback. Activism will push some people away, but it will also bring the right people closer.’ 

Kerry and Rory encouraged the audience to be brave. Having an activist mindset will mean you have to stick your head above the parapet, but we need to remain bold. Kerry added, “As a business, we must speak truth to power.”

 

Check out the video below to hear from our panel host, Chloe Tuck.

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Written by
Bonnie Middleton