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Authenticity and Communication During Civil Unrest: Lessons Learned from Ben & Jerry’s

By Aisha Buchanan | On July 13, 2020

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis reignited the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that is not only recognized nationally, but has transcended to an international level. The movement has forced many to wake up and recognize the long-time injustices that have been set against Black people in America. Despite the pandemic, advocates and activists took to the streets to protest for justice against America’s biggest plague: racism. According to the Washington Post, protests around these injustices have taken place in all 50 states.

With the world watching, corporations feel obligated to make a statement around current events, as staying silent would only raise the eyebrows of concerned consumers. Recently, many companies released corporate statements to demonstrate solidarity and condemnation of the injustices committed against the Black community. However, as time and experience have shown us, words just aren’t enough.

The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an eruption of consciousness, lifting the veil on the inequities in every corner of corporate America. Companies will be remiss to not learn from this current moment. Amid the flood of corporate statements and email newsletters, there are a few companies genuinely showing their support, and one company that stands out in particular is Ben & Jerry’s. The company recently published a bold statement, stating that “Silence is NOT an Option,” directly speaking out against racism and supporting the current Black Lives Matter movement. 

In a sea full of generic “I stand with you” statements, Ben & Jerry’s set itself apart in a positive way – so much so that there are takeaways other companies can learn from. Communicating during times of civil unrest is not easy, but here are a few examples of how Ben & Jerry’s led the charge – and what organizations should do to follow suit and share a message with impact:

Be Authentic. In Ben & Jerry’s recent statement, they called out the root cause of the issues America is facing today by addressing the fact that what we are experiencing is not new, but are residual symptoms of America’s past. Through a communications lens, Ben & Jerry’s statement was honest and authentic because it addressed the larger issues at hand head-on.

Research Before Crafting Your Message. Ben & Jerry’s statement pulled in key points and facts that helped create a bold statement. During times of civil unrest, generic messaging will simply not work, as it often comes off as apathetic. As a result, it is important for corporations to do their research and craft authentic messages rather than joining the conversation simply because it’s “trendy” or “timely” to do so.

This Moment is Not a Marketing Ploy. Ben & Jerry’s has a track record of supporting social justice issues from racial and gender equality to voting rights. Activism is embedded in the company’s brand. Some companies have shared their statements and social media posts to show their support for the current movement – however, consumers and employees are calling out companies whose track records show otherwise. In other words, audience members can easily sniff out when a company is riding a wave for its own gain, and won’t be afraid to call these organizations out on key platforms like social media.

Educate Your Audience. This point goes hand and hand with research. Ben and Jerry’s publishes educational content around social justice issues on its blog regularly. In fact, the company’s most popular blog post discussed the impacts of slavery that are visible in our institutions today. In times like this, it is helpful to educate your audience and consumers. This is because these actions shows consumers that companies are willing to do their research and also shows that they care about their customers and their communities, not just profits.

Consumers are hyper-aware of a corporation’s social responsibility and the influence they have. Today’s civil unrest has reeled in a series of messages from corporations, causing many to applaud for speaking out or to dissect what is being said. Regardless, what stands out among the crowd is real and genuine messaging coupled with action, which is the reason why Ben & Jerry’s statement should be an example that other corporations take a few lessons from.

Aisha Buchanan