Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream brand owned by Unilever, often looks to its employees as it identifies the social issues that are fundamental to its mission.

Matthew McCarthy serves as the CEO of Ben Jerry’s – which has a history of social activism that dates back to its founding in 1978 – and discussed this subject at Advertising Week New York 2019.

And he argued that a genuine, long-term commitment to driving change requires a lot more than saying the right things on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

“Your authenticity doesn’t come from who’s managing your social handle,” McCarthy said. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Ben & Jerry’s sparks purposeful marketing with employee-driven acts.)

“Your authenticity comes from people doing stuff. At Ben & Jerry’s, I have groups of activists – people on our staff – telling me what we should be doing.”

It’s a cohort that regularly advises senior management on “where we should be going as a business”, effectively providing the same sort of service a third-party consultant might offer to people who focus on more traditional aspects of marketing.

And the success of that model has given McCarthy a new perspective on cause-driven brand building – whether it involves pushing for criminal justice reform or tackling prejudice against people based on their sexuality.

“If any brand is not sure what to do, it needs to talk to its people. Conversation can provide a wealth of power that's largely under-tapped within most organisations,” McCarthy said.

People are still looking to the C-suite for “the old traditional kind” of inspiration, he suggested, “but here’s the reality: the higher you go, the less you know.”

McCarthy has the long-term weight and heritage of the B&J brand on his side, but also grounds the Unilever unit’s march towards purpose in the most recent findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

“‘Trust’ was a top-five asset when consumers were asked what would be ‘deal-breaker’ or a ‘deciding factor’ in their brand-buying decisions,” the B&J CEO observed.

Given such numbers, he continued, “It's just surprising that not enough businesses and brands are actually putting doing something powerfully positive at the center of their businesses,” he said.

Sourced from WARC