Each year, the marketing team at Ben & Jerry's (www.benjerry.com) works on a single, large, integrated push related to the company's social mission. Voter registration was the task last year, an election year.

A year later, Noelle Pirnie, the ice cream maker's integrated marketing manager, calls those efforts quite successful, and she offers some valuable lessons learned to integrate next time around.

Ben & Jerry's management unites behind social initiatives with enthusiasm and motivation. Management ignites the employees, and the result is that the company can thoroughly integrate them into the cause as partners, and achieve much more powerful results than with a straightforward sponsorship.

In such a heated election year as the 2004 presidential race, voter registration was a cause in which everyone at Ben & Jerry's, no matter their political leanings, could participate. Along the way, the company engendered goodwill and raised brand awareness among the 18-34-year-old demographic.

Getting Out the Vote

It all started in early 2003, when Ben & Jerry's posted the first "election" for a new flavor. Primary Berry Graham won the vote via a Web site poll. The vote was promoted on AOL, which gets a steady stream of traffic whether there is a special promotion or not.

Part of getting people to the site to vote for the flavor included an initiative that encouraged site visitors to take an "Oath to Vote." Approximately 50,000 people did so within the program's first four days. As of late September 2004, an additional 15,870 people had taken the Oath on Ben & Jerry's site. Of those, 1,782 had clicked on the link to RocktheVote.com and officially registered to vote.

Summer Surge

The real development push happened in the late spring and summer of 2004, when Ben & Jerry's put into play the key elements of the voter registration effort:

  1. Ben & Jerry's annual free scoop day on April 27 added a twist this time around, by giving customers a way to register to vote, in-store.

  2. Ben & Jerry's traveled with, and sample-scooped Primary Berry Graham, at the 50-odd stops of the Rock The Vote (RTV) summer tour.

  3. Ben & Jerry's kicked off the college portion/fall tour of RTV on August 21 with an event in its own backyard: Burlington, Vermont's waterfront park. In keeping with the tradition of its music festivals, several local bands were brought in. This time, an educational component focused on voter registration was integrated into the program.

    In addition to distributing lots of ice cream for sample or purchase, and registering 163 people to vote, the daylong event included speeches from both Vermont gubernatorial candidates, a Ben & Jerry-eopardy game, and an interactive installation designed to show participants how their ideals might differ with the current administration's distribution of discretionary spending, as well as several kid-focused activities.

  4. Each Tuesday, early June through August 21, a team that included one of 55 newly notarized Ben & Jerry's employees took the scoop truck out to locations across the mostly rural state to register voters. Sometimes it was someone from the marketing department, or someone from operations, or a warehouse staff member commandeering the truck. The greatest challenge of this particular program was that 90% of Vermont residents were already registered to vote. Similarly, for every 100 ice cream samples distributed, just 10 people registered. Total samples of Primary Berry Graham given out: 3,085. Number of voters registered via the company's Vermont Voter Registration Program: 315.

Lessons Learned Overall, Pirnie considers last summer's voter registration effort a big success. Ben & Jerry's involvement helped register 882,667 new voters (this number includes the 15,000 from the RTV tour and the 850,000 registered at RTV.com).

"Ben & Jerry's is committed to the voter registration initiative, so I expect we'll have opportunities to improve upon our already-positive track record," Pirnie said. "Next time, we'll work to integrate our involvement even further—putting our resources where they can have the most impact—into existing events at established venues."

In the case of the Rock the Vote Tour, specifically, Pirnie said Ben & Jerry's would be looking for opportunities over and above scooping ice cream on the perimeter of tour stops.

"We know our ice cream is a huge draw," said Pirnie. "The Ben & Jerry's team wants to be where the action is, and next time around you can find us front and center, in the thick of the registration process."

The focus of the more localized efforts of this past summer (and of all Ben & Jerry's community events) is to keep Ben & Jerry's long-established and passionate core customers connected to the brand. In addition, the Burlington waterfront event (though hampered by rain) and the weekly treks cross-state for scooping/voter registration, were also ways that Ben & Jerry corporate employees could see the results of their work reflected in the faces of their neighbors.

Building Customer and Employee Loyalty

"Our goal with integrated marketing is to identify causes that everyone in the company can get very passionate about, no matter their politics. And, voter registration last year was a powerful common cause," said Pirnie.

"The more we learn through integrated programs like these, the more I see how important it is to consider our involvement as a partnership and not a sponsorship. The word 'sponsorship' just sounds like we threw money in the pot and got our logo added to the event's T-shirts."

Because the voter registration cause so suited Ben & Jerry's employees, every Ben & Jerry's division was united behind the goal of getting out the vote.

The product sampling and voter registration numbers certainly offer a measure of success, but the goodwill for cause and community will likely resonate more for the long term.

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.