Live Issue: Ben & Jerry's - A UK take on a US brand

Claire Bond looks at how Ben & Jerry's Sundae in the Park event in London, run again by Cake, fits in with its wider UK strategy.

A region that spends six months a year under snow is not the first place you would expect to find a burgeoning ice cream empire. But skiing mecca Vermont, on the north-eastern tip of the US is recognised internationally as home to the Ben & Jerry's brand.

Since its inception in 1978 founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have enjoyed a meteoric rise but the company ethos remains true to their humble cottage industry beginnings. One Ben & Jerry's motto remains 'business has a responsibility to the community.'

UK brand manager Philippa Marshall emphasises the importance of the community feel of the brand. She says: "Ben & Jerry's is all about making the best possible ice cream in the nicest way. It's about what goes into the ice cream, how we sell it and what we do with the profits."

She adds: "We make sure in every part of the business we're doing something positive - it's not just about making money. I think the company learnt early on that doing the 'right thing' also has business results. It might seem slightly intangible from a bean-counter perspective but in the long run it's a more sustainable business model."

Even on a global scale the brand shows concern for wider issues. Its three-year Climate Change College offers 18- to 30-year-olds the chance to educate themselves on the causes, politics and potential solutions for climate change. Currently six competition winners are residing in Greenland as part of the project.

The company also continually demonstrates its devotion to local causes and its event marketing portfolio is evidence of this. This year will be the second outing of the brand's Sundae on the Common event - a music festival in Clapham, south London.

It was launched in 2005 when the company decided not to stage it's One World One Heart festival in the US, an event that originated from a shareholders' barbecue 17 years ago.

Last year's event in Clapham included acts as diverse as The Thrills and Alabama 3 and drew an audience of 5,000. The £5 entry fee helped to raise £25,000 for the Clapham Society, a charity that campaigns for the renovation of local landmark the Clapham Common bandstand.

"The Clapham Society had put in a bid for lottery money but in order to receive a grant it had to raise its own contribution of £100,000. So the community group really needed an injection from somewhere," adds Marshall.

"It's really important that, as with One World One Heart, we always leave something behind and it's a core part of the festival. It's all about bringing together the different aspects of the Ben & Jerry's personality into one event. The bandstand has always been about free community entertainment so we felt that the ethos of Ben & Jerry's Sundae on the Common fitted."

Other causes present at this year's event will include the WWF, Trees for Cities and the Fair Trade Foundation.

The kid in you

As a precursor to this year's festival, which has expanded to two days from 29-30 July, the bandstand is scheduled to reopen this month. In addition to music from acts such as Badly Drawn Boy, Jose Gonzalez and the Wonderstuff there will be numerous attractions aimed at 'bringing out the kid in you'.

Alongside the Dublin Mudslide helter-skelter will be animals from Vauxhall City Farm, children's entertainment, face painting and of course, all 16 flavours of Ben & Jerry's ice cream on hand.

The company enlisted the help of agency Cake for the second year to organise the event as only two Ben & Jerry's employees, based at its modest Windsor headquarters, work on the event throughout the year.

Cake event director Will McHugh says: "The event is a collaboration between Cake and Ben & Jerry's. The team came to us before last year's event with the idea. It was keen to not just sponsor a festival but to have a dedicated Ben & Jerry's event which conveyed the brand's ethical feel. It has been crucial for us to understand the brand. The festival has a great heritage in the US' One World One Heart festival that we had to replicate."

Cake manages every aspect of the festival from locating the venue through to licensing and production. For McHugh the aim is to make this year's event bigger while remaining consistent with last year's launch festival.

"Again it's about all the different activities as well as the music.

We want to create a festival feel, we don't want it to be just a gig," he says.

Before launching its own event, Ben & Jerry's already had a strong association with the festivals scene. The Flying Fresian tour was launched in 1998 and involved travelling the country offering samples of ice cream from a converted American school bus. In the past seven years the bus has visited Glastonbury, Reading and V Festivals with proceeds donated to partner charity Childline.

The cancellation of Glastonbury this year caused Ben & Jerry's to change tack. Traditionally, the brand's marketing strategy has not involved TV.

Instead focus has been on poster campaigns and cinemas to reach the 18- to 35-year-old demographic.

This year the team has worked with mobile phone operators Sony Ericsson and Orange on the tour of the film Glastonbury, a documentary that charts the festival's 35-year history.

The tour, organised by Iris Experience, visited London, Bristol, Leeds and Glasgow from 11-15 April. "We ran a competition in The Times last year for a new Ben & Jerry's flavour. The winning suggestion was 'Glastonberry'," says Marshall.

Exclusive stockist

"We thought the preview screenings were a great opportunity to sample the new ice cream. The theory is, if you can't go to the festival you can have the ice cream instead. This works well because our exclusive stockist for the ice cream is Blockbuster and it is also the exclusive rental firm for the DVD," she adds.

Glastonberry ice cream will officially launch to the wider consumer audience in June. The limited edition flavour will also continue Glastonbury's commitment to the charity WaterAid by donating 40p from each tub to it.

Although the festival and wider music scene have formed the epicentre of Ben & Jerry's experiential work, a broader live marketing portfolio does exist. Sampling, of course, remains an essential element.

"We're quite a niche luxury product so it's about word of mouth, personal recommendation and sampling," says Ben & Jerry's Marshall.

Supermarket sampling takes place across the UK throughout the year. "It's really important because people - especially in London - think Ben & Jerry's is a really big brand. But once you go out of the main centres we've still got a lot of work to do on brand awareness. There are still a lot of people out there who don't even know we exist. So we want to stay close to the hearts of people in London as well as expand," adds Marshall.

Being both creative and fun has been integral to each campaign, with 'guerrilla' stunts often at the fore. Previously the Flying Fresian tour visited city centres and incorporated live street marketing including two-minute comedy re-enactments of the film Psycho, followed by ice cream sampling.

Similarly when the Full Vermonty flavour launched, staff entertained consumers with a Full Monty-style strip, down to 'nude' costumes.

Fun is certainly key. The brightly decorated stores, of which there are 58 in the UK, evolved from Cohen and Greenfield's original designs from the converted gas-station in Vermont. And yet the UK office is able to stamp its authority on all of the projects that venture east from the US.

"We have autonomy to come up with our own things but the US has proved a great source of inspiration. We just give it a British feel," says Marshall.

She adds: "This is a very complicated brand with 28 years of authentic history and that is something you cannot communicate through an ad campaign.

I think you sell it short.

"What's great about live event marketing is that you can have lots of different messages and they can all add up to something greater than individual parts. And until you get someone involved in that kind of experience it's hard to explain the brand," concludes Marshall.

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