Ben & Jerry’s Asks Us to Take Big Lick of Fear & Hype

Related articles

Ben & Jerry's headquarters, in Waterbury, VT

It's amazing what lengths a company will go to in order to sell you something.

With that thought squarely in mind, hats off to Ben & Jerry's for coming up with a doozy of a rationale for prompting its customers to (1) get involved in the political process, and (2) get on the grocery store checkout line.

Based on a recent product awareness campaign, it seems the Vermont-based ice cream producer wants us all to believe that global warming, while catastrophic enough in its own right, could also deprive its customers of some of their favorite dessert flavors. Action must be taken immediately, the company implores us, or the chocolate, and the nuts, and the coffee that's needed as ingredients for 26 separate creations could, in time, vanish from the Earth. 

And when that happens the Atlantic Ocean will be lapping against the beaches of central Pennsylvania, but the bigger problem Americans will face is the prospect of forever being deprived of Peanut Buttah Cookie Core.

By rolling out this bizarre marketing gimmick, Ben & Jerry's, a division of consumer product giant Unilever, must think its customers are dimwitted rubes with no ability to engage in critical thinking. 

And it uses the ambiguous, slippery, hypnotic power of the word "Could" to stir up fear and unfounded anxiety. Take a look at how the company delivers its message. Read, as I did with stupifying amazement, "Flavors We Could Lose to Climate Change," (as you watch four pint-sized flavors "disappear" in the accompanying, manipulating moving image at the top of the page).

In addition to ice cream, what B&J's is really trying to sell are hypothetical situations that the planet's changing climate "could" destroy the farming of these critically-important ingredients -- so you better put down your melting bowl of animal fat and sugar, and take notice -- because that means goodbye to your Chubby Hubby, Karamel Sutra Core and Phish Food. Therefore, the disjointed reasoning goes, if you don't want to surrender your frosty, midnight snack, better sign the petition at the bottom of the page to combat climate change.

We're not making this up. Here's the wobbly rationale, straight from the marketing pitch/post:

Exhibit A: "Scientists predict that cocoa production could drop by as much as 50% by 2050."

Exhibit B: "One study predicts that the number of pre-existing regions suitable for growing coffee could shrink anywhere from 65-100% by 2080."

Exhibit C: "... the truth is that climate change is creeping closer and closer to home. And it’s headed straight for your freezer. Pretty soon you could be seeing shortages of your favorite foods, including – gasp! – Ben & Jerry’s. We rely on farmers all over the world for our ingredients, and when they don’t have the predictable weather patterns needed for farming, that can mean no cocoa, no peanuts, and no Peanut Butter Cup ice cream."


In those three statements, note three words: "could" and "can mean." You add them to a sentence, and anything's possible, like Ben could outrun Usain Bolt (or maybe just Ben Affleck). Sure, there's always the possibility that the company co-founder could blow past the world's fastest man, but the chances of it happening are remote.

We're not saying that climate change does or does not exist -- that's not the point. Rather, the point is that tying the idea of climate change to the extinction of ingredients for ice cream 34 or 64 years from now is ... how shall we put this? ... absurd.  

One important reason is that B&J's conveniently fails to recognize that technology, and innovation, and changes in farming techniques over the next several decades will undoubtedly support the cultivation of these products, as terrain and climatological conditions change. It's the same evolution that's been in effect since, oh ... forever.

Therefore, for the company to promote this doomsday, sit-on-our-hands, do-nothing concept, that these crops will just disappear as we watch is about as disingenuous is it comes. And further, considering B&J's is owned by food manufacturer Unilever, does anyone really believe that the multi-billion conglomerate is just going to sit idly by if anything even remotely resembling this problem were to surface?

Look, if B&J's wants to encourage its customers to get involved politically -- as it does with its imprimatur: "Sign a petition to "become a part of the climate action movement and keep the pressure on world leaders for a cleaner, greener future!" -- then fine, and it should just come out and say that. But to wrap this call to action around some wild, unfounded theory, that we'll experience the disappearance of these crops in 30-to-50 years, fails the credibility test in spectacular fashion. 

And the scaremongering? Don't company executives realize that the American consumer, one who possesses even a modicum of critical-thinking ability, can see past this blatant manipulation? 

But for those who can't, B&J's -- incredibly -- just comes right out and admits it's simply inducing fear.

"Scared yet? We sure are. As the effects of climate change creep closer and closer to our daily lives, it's becoming more and more important that we do everything we can to reduce global emissions and move toward a sustainable future," the pitch/post reads. "Be part of the solution, and keep your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavors alive while you’re at it."