It takes one hell of a constitution to take on a $4 billion corporation. But that’s exactly what Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, just a couple of hippies with an ice cream parlor in Vermont, did.
The History of a Household Brand
The ice cream parlor, called Ben & Jerry’s, had been cobbled together with mostly borrowed funds. By 1983, though, it had skyrocketed to a $2 million corporation. The business had outgrown the renovated gas station it started in, and suddenly found itself large enough to draw the ire of the very big, very powerful Pillsbury Company, the parent organization of Hägaan-Dazs.
In those days, Hägaan-Dazs ruled the grocery store pint market, and the company was not impressed with the gutsy little gas station upstart in Vermont that was quickly picking up steam.
Ben and Jerry’s began hand-packing pints and delivering them to regional grocery stores. Feeling threatened by the growing success of Ben & Jerry’s, Pillsbury gave ice cream distributors an ultimatum: either sell Hägaan-Dazs or sell Ben & Jerry’s. Not both.
In 1984, Pillsbury was selling over 200 products in 55 countries and also owned Burger King. Distributors saw that they were not just threatened with the prospect of losing Hägaan Dazs ice cream, but also with the loss of Pillsbury’s entire product line.
Backed into a corner, distributors chose to sell the well-known Hägaan-Dazs brand.
When Your Marketing Messaging Needs to Change, Rise to the Challenge
Cohen and Greenfield were unphased, and they were not about to let their hard work be destroyed by a faceless corporate giant. They knew Pillsbury’s actions were in clear violation of federal antitrust laws, so they filed a lawsuit and launched a campaign called, “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?”
Ben & Jerry’s was already causing millions of dollars to melt away from Pillsbury’s bottom line, all while displaying a moral obligation to local suppliers and local economies. They posted their slogan and a 1-800 number anywhere and everywhere they could. Curious individuals dialed the number and reached a recording of Cohen and Greenfield explaining their situation.
The public went crazy over the campaign. Ben & Jerry’s received hundreds of calls a day from people ordering bumper stickers and “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” T-shirts. Ben & Jerry’s rode a swell of public support while dad press forced Pillsbury to back off. By the end of 1984, Ben & Jerry’s sales exceeded $4 million, twice that of the previous year.
Customer Loyalty for a People-Oriented Business
Cohen and Greenfield strove to create good ice cream, both in taste and in reputation. And to the people who defended them, the partners were people, not a corporation.
They involved themselves in their community, sourced ingredients locally, and strove to create a product that didn’t just taste good, but spoke to a particular ethos, one their loyal fans connected with deeply.
As a small business, it can be intimidating to demand your piece of pie in a world full of giants, but if there’s anything to be learned from Cohen and Greenfield, it’s the power of a dedication to values, loyal customers, and the willingness to ask those loyal customers to fight on your side in the long, hard battle for business success.
The famous “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” campaign is an innovative example of excellent marketing. Ben & Jerry’s received unwavering support in a time before social media existed. Can you imagine the power a small business has today when fighting to hold its ground in a landscape dominated by giants?
See how a viral tweet or post can boost your online presence and bring in business by checking out this article: The Real Secrets of Psychology Behind Viral Internet Sensations.