Ben & Jerry’s ice-creams, branding of the future [INTERVIEW]

Tommaso Vitali talks about an innovative Company that wants to give back to the community.

I gelati Ben & Jerry's e il branding del futuro [INTERVISTA]

Ben & Jerry’s, an US ice-cream producer operating in Italy for longer than one year, is characterized by a strong focus on social and environmental sustainability. Following is an interview to Ben & Jerry’s Italy Brand Manager, Tommaso Vitali.

How difficult was it to introduce the Ben & Jerry’s brand in Italy, which strategies were chosen to differentiate from competing brands, perhaps even within Unilever’s own portfolio?

Introducing a US brand in Italy certainly wasn’t easy, since Italy is one of the most competitive markets for ice-creams, almost as coffee, pizza and pasta. For that reason, we didn’t introduce Ben & Jerry’s to the Italian market before 2011. It was necessary to identify the correct strategy  to enter such market, while analyzing launches of similar products throughout Europe.

The chosen strategy was to build the brand slowly, enabling the consumers to understand it. Ben & Jerry’s has to be understood, because it differs from our traditional ice-cream concept. Ben & Jerry’s is more dense and richer, characterized by chunks of fruits and cookies inside, and complex flavors such as the Cookie Dough (the ice-cream version of an American cookie), or the Chocolate Fudge Brownie. At the same time, it was important to explain the brand’s philosophy and its key values, which are themselves elements of differentiation.

In the US, Ben & Jerry’s has been associated to social issue campaigns. In Italy, the “Good Ideas” campaign proved that a brand can have a positive effect on the community, while reaching its communication objectives. Can we say that being attentive to social issues was one of Ben & Jerry’s key elements of differentiation?

It was and still is a key element of differentiation, and not just in Italy, because the values that you just mentioned constitute the Company’s mission. The two founders, Ben and Jerry, started on this journey in 1978 on one premise: every business has the responsibility of giving something back to the community upon which it builds its own success.

Back in 1978, when there was only one ice-cream shop in Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s way of giving back to the community was to give away its ice-creams once a year. Today, we continue such tradition by giving away millions of free ice-creams world-wide once a year, but we are also working on further important projects on a global scale.

Fairtrade is a fair-trade program through which we ensure a fair price is paid to our suppliers, regardless of the price fluctuations  of commodities.

Ben & Jerry's ice-creams, branding of the future [INTERVIEW]

We pay great attention to the entire production pipeline, beginning with the animals that produce our milk (the foundation of ice-creams) through the Caring Dairy sustainable farming program, which ensures the highest possible quality standards in animal treatment. To make that possible, we only buy from those farmers who fully adhere to the program’s requirements. In Europe, almost all our milk suppliers are located in Holland.

In Italy, we chose to localize our  mission, through the development of the “Good Ideas” program (more here), with the help of Ninja Lab.

What should we expect in the months to come?

We will launch three new products, and we will continue to build our brand reputation through digital and below-the-line activities. We will certainly repeat the  “Good Ideas” campaign, starting on April 1st, with prizes amounting to €50.000.

We will also repeat our “Scoop Tour” roadshow, a six weeks long event (from May 7th to mid June) during which we will distribute free ice-creams throughout Italy, stopping by all main cities including Napoli and Milano. Our fans will be able to suggest stops by using an App that will be launched through our Facebook Brand Page.

It is important to let as many people as possible to taste our ice-cream, to let them discover its intense taste.

Are you planning to open further soft served ice-cream shops, besides the one in Mirabilandia?

To be honest, we decided to focus on packaged ice-cream through a selective distribution strategy. Our ice-creams will only be available at selected points of sale, where we know the product will receive proper visibility and positioning. Essentially, the product will be available at bars and through branded refrigerators (in about 500 points of sale), thanks to which it will be possible to create dedicated Ben & Jerry’s corners.
One important novelty is the appointment of a testimonial, “hyena” Niccolò Torielli, who will staff the roadshow. The reason why he was chosen is because Ben & Jerry’s founders had  two rules: 1) Always give back to the community, and 2) whatever you have to do, do it in such a way that it will be fun. Niccolò was chosen because he can discuss serious social issues, such as drugs and alcohol, with a fun yet very direct approach, easily reaching out to the younger generations.

Ben & Jerry's ice-creams, branding of the future [INTERVIEW]

What are your suggestions to young students who are interested in marketing positions?

In order to approach modern marketing it is important to have an academic education, but it is likewise important to acquire as differentiated competences as possible. It is necessary to have those skills providing the extra edge that will get us hired by big brands.

It goes without saying that it is important to learn extra languages, it’s also important to stock on working experiences and internships while still in college. Erasmus and experiences abroad will expand our cultural horizon, providing a more open attitude towards the world and modern brands that have a strong focus on the digital world, a “new” world that is still uncharted terrain for many brands.

This is exactly what happens at Ben & Jerry’s, which heavily invests in digital marketing, enabling a conversation with the consumers. The Zero Moment of Truth takes place on the web, it has replaced the shelf’s moment. The buying decision starts there, so it is important to be there.

To tell the truth, some brands can do it better than others, Ben & Jerry’s stands great chances because it has plenty of contents to put on the table, from its heritage to its values, all the way up to its social and environmental sustainability projects.