'If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It?': Ben & Jerry’s Jay Curley on Company's Approach to Marketing

'If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It?': Ben & Jerry’s Jay Curley on Company's Approach to Marketing

Interview by Ricardo EstevesRicardo Esteves
Published: June 12, 2023

Who Is Jay Curley

Jay Curley is the Global Head of Integrated Marketing for Ben & Jerry’s. Jay oversees the company’s consumer marketing activities in the U.S. while also leading its general global advertising. Along with implementing integrated programs that promote Ben & Jerry’s three-part mission to life through traditional advertising, social media and digital engagements, retail, social activism, and live consumer experiences.

“Ben & Jerry's design has always been rooted in the nuance of sophisticated, fun, and childlike enthusiasm.”
Jay Curley

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the world's leading brands in the ice cream and frozen products sector. While its creative and delicious flavors have played a crucial role in its success, design, marketing, sustainability, and social responsibility have also been equally important.

The company has established itself as a frontrunner in the ice cream and frozen products industry, captivating consumers worldwide with its exceptional offerings. Ben & Jerry's unwavering commitment to creativity and flavor innovation has undeniably contributed to its remarkable ascent in the global market.

In this interview, we have the opportunity to explore the evolution of Ben & Jerry’s marketing strategies with Jay Curley, the Global Head of Integrated Marketing. We also delve into the distinctive challenges faced by an ice cream company, particularly in managing the business during the colder months of the year.

Spotlight: How has the rise of social media impacted the way ice cream companies approach their marketing and advertising strategies?

Jay Curley: Social media has become the default way most brands connect with their customers. It has allowed Ben & Jerry’s to directly be in touch with its fans in a faster and more effective way. We’re able to live our values, leverage storytelling around our beliefs and take our activism directly to people. It is constantly evolving so we have fun continually innovating and trying new things.

The company has been around since 1978. How have Ben Jerry's marketing strategies evolved over the years? What impact have they had on the industry as a whole?

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same. In 1978 we shared our philosophies that “business has a responsibility to give back to the community,” and “If it’s not fun, why do it?” That is still the core of the company. Marketing is all about telling our story connected with people who share those values.

The way we connect has changed. In 2023, it is digital-first, driven by experiences, and underpinned by more insight and data. But we’re still just having fun with our fans.

How do you market it in winter when people might not be thinking about cold treats? And are ice creams still popular during that time of year?

As a global brand, it’s always warm somewhere! But we also find our biggest fans dig into pints year ‘round, regardless of the temperature. While there is a seasonality of people thinking more of ice cream during the summer months, we see a substantial base of fans that eat Ben & Jerry’s in all 12 months.

What are some other marketing challenges the company has faced, and how did you overcome them?

Ice cream is certainly a competitive segment, and the landscape is always changing. It's fair to say that Ben & Jerry's has carved out a niche, especially in the super-premium category to become one of the top brands.

It has done that by staying committed to excellent quality ingredients, low overrun of air added into the product, and staying connected to culture, all the while exercising its mission and values.

That last part, especially has allowed the company to carve out its own independent identity, separate from other ice cream businesses.

Ben & Jerry's is known for naming its flavors creatively, like "Chunky Monkey" and "Phish Food." How do these names fit into the company's branding strategy?

Part of this happened early on in the company’s history, so it wasn't so much a branding strategy at that time, but more in line with the companies, values, and principles embodied in the "if it's not fun, why do it?"

Fans gravitated towards those fun and quirky names and therefore it was an identity for Ben & Jerry's at the time.

Whether it was the first rock 'n' roll ice cream in America, as Cherry Garcia was deemed, or other fun and quirky names it set the tone for us to be able to continue in that same vein and stay true to Ben & Jerry's history.

Speaking of Chunky Monkey, you previously partnered with Nike. What is the story behind the collaboration? How did it come about and what inspired the shoe's design?

We had some friends over at Nike that wanted to collaborate, and we were very up for it. When you look at all the design nuances on the shoe, it really is quite impressive from the dripping ice cream to the fun colors to the cow design motif.

We think they did an excellent job and fans were certainly clamoring for those shoes and still ask about them today.

Ben & Jerry's has a very distinctive packaging design. How does design play a crucial role in the company's marketing strategy?

Ben & Jerry's design has always been rooted in the nuance of sophisticated, fun, and childlike enthusiasm. The pack was meant to mirror the cofounders in their quirky, appreciation for humor, names, and products that broke outside of the regular mold, especially containing many big chunks and swirls.

In the last 20 years, we've certainly modernized the pint, but it is still developed and designed by a great group of designers who retain the handcrafted approach to design.

Free Cone Day is a beloved tradition for Ben & Jerry's fans. Can you talk about what this day means for the company and how important it is to maintain this tradition?

That's a great question and I appreciate you asking about it. Free Cone Day is a big thank you for our fans and community for being a part of Ben & Jerry’s all year. As much as our fans love free cone day, I think the truth is employees get more excited about it than the fans do.

It's not a criticism, it's just that Free Cone Day is our big tradition that we have held ever since the one-year anniversary in 1979. Mind you, there were a few years during the pandemic recently when we could not hold Free Cone Day out of being precautionary to protect their fans' health, but aside from that in the last 40+ years, we have been dedicated to celebrating free coming to every year.

It allows us to continue the tradition of thanking our friends for their support and is one of the pure ways we get to bring joy to those communities we serve.

In recent years, there has been a trend toward healthier and more plant-based ice cream options. How is Ben & Jerry's responding to this trend, and how does it fit into the company's overall marketing strategy?

Our fans were asking for it and we never want to disappoint them. We notice it has certainly been one of the fastest-growing segments in the frozen category over the last five years and so we entered five years ago with four total flavors.

Fast forward to today and we have 20 non-dairy formulations that are both almond milk-based, as well as sunflower butter-based versions. Some of those are our iconic flavors and some are unique flavors only for our non-dairy fans.

What we find is that there is not as much black and white between the categories as many fans shop on the basis of flavor and so we see a lot more crossover than you would think between non-dairy and dairy versions.

Five years is way more than a fad, so this is a trend. We continue to play the support and expect the rest of the industry will do the same. Non-dairy is here to stay.

Lastly, since summer is just around the corner, can you give us a sneak peek at any upcoming campaigns or initiatives we should look out for?

We are just right now launching our summer, limited batch flavor, which is called ice cream, Sammie. It is a nod to nostalgia and growing up as a kid sitting outside, eating the classic vanilla between two chocolate sandwich wafers, you know the ones that stuck to your fingers.

It's Ben & Jerry's taking on that but is still a very simple combination of vanilla and chocolate. That really helps you to harken back to simpler days.

This should be our cherry on top of the Sunday as our flavor lineup for summer is now fully set and has been unveiled since January, we're looking forward to a great summer and hope our friends are ready for all that we have to offer.

Thank you for your time, Jay Curley. Best of luck to you and Ben & Jerry’s!

Keep up with Ben & Jerry’s on Instagram and read about other successful businesses here.


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