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How can ‘ethical companies’ such as Ben & Jerry’s maintain their brand image when they are acquired by multinational groups?

How can ‘ethical companies’ such as Ben & Jerry’s maintain their brand image when they are acquired by multinational groups?

‘The acquisition begs the question: how ethically committed and anti-establishment were the Vermont hippies? The Ben & Jerry’s phenomenon could have been nothing more than clever brand positioning. A cynical view, perhaps, but they got global coverage, much of it free. The purchase highlights the difficulty big brand owners find in being truly innovative. Anyone researching a new ice cream brand for Unilever would have killed off the Ben & Jerry’s concept for being too radical when, of course, you must be bold to create something of value.’

Adrian Collins, Managing Director, Ziggurat

‘To some extent, they have to. That’s what Unilever bought – the rest is just ice cream. It will now have to work damn hard to make sure the quirky, naive, unconventional image that goes with this great product stays. In the short term, news of the acquisition will have passed most consumers by and the momentum of the brand mythology will carry it forward. Longer term, keeping the brand alive will depend on whether Ben and Jerry remain as executive producers, with their input visible to consumers. Ultimately, I have little faith Unilever will be able to keep the shine.’

Kate Killeen, Marketing Director, Springetts

‘It is almost impossible to keep the ethical spirit of a corporation if you are bought out because you are, in effect, selling your soul. Only if Ben & Jerry’s remains completely separate from Unilever, and maintains its charitable donations, can it even try to keep its soul. Once a business gets to a certain level, it must realise its assets – it can then float, sell to a company or sell to its staff. Whatever happens, the trade will now view Ben & Jerry’s differently, and this will eventually feed through to consumers.’

Satkar Gidda, Director, Siebert Head

‘Maintaining an ethical brand image is one thing, sustaining an ethical agenda is another. Ben & Jerry’s has done the former brilliantly, their trendy, folksy image being as strong now as it was when they started. It will be interesting to see if the 7.5 per cent of Ben & Jerry’s pre-tax profits currently contributed to worthy causes still continues. Don’t hold your breath.’

Peter Morrow, Chairman, Holmes & Marchant International

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