Courting Controversy and Creating Customers

Courting Controversy and Creating Customers

Giving your brand a point of view can be one of the fastest ways to stand out in a noisy world. Consumers see an average of 5,000 brand messages a day, according to, which means standing out has become more challenging than ever before.

While your strong brand position may alienate some, it can turn current and prospective customers into brand supporters and advocates. Many brands play it safe by being as neutral as possible on issues like social justice or the environment, but the famous ice cream brand, Ben & Jerry’s, is not afraid to take a stance on serious topics. Chris Miller, the Activism Manager at Ben & Jerry’s, believes activism is good for brands and for business.

Branding to your beliefs

Some entrepreneurs may think of Corporate Social Responsibility as superfluous, but CEOs are starting to see the power of CSR to produce profits. According to the 2016 PWC’s Global CEO survey, 64 percent of CEOs say, “CSR is core to their business…” The PWC report also states that when there is a high level of trust in a company, it tends to drives business performance by attracting new customers and retaining existing ones. “I think it’s way better to be loved by some people than inoffensive to everyone,” says Miller.

Socially conscious content

Taking on environmental causes, human rights and, most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement, has been a Ben & Jerry’s hallmark since the company’s founding in 1978. But Miller draws a careful distinction between what his company does and so-called cause-related marketing. “A typical cause-related marketing campaign starts with ‘who are my consumers and what do they care about’?” says Miller. “We start with our values and beliefs and inspire our fans and consumers to take action.”

A cause and its effects

Miller acknowledges that the company’s statement in support of Black Lives Matter was
”controversial, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.” Ben & Jerry’s offered up an opinion piece on their blog and then linked to it from Twitter and Facebook. Miller estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of the comments the company received were negative. The post was re-tweeted more than 65,000 times, according to Miller. Social engagement isn’t just for big brands.

Be prepared for backlash

You must be properly prepared for negative sentiment that may come as a result of taking a controversial position. However, even negative backlash can increase a company’s bottom line – remember the old adage “All publicity is good publicity!”.

Are you being courageous and courting controversy to create customers?

Adapted from an article by Adele Cehrs,

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