How an Ice Cream Brand is Changing the World: An Interview with Jay Tandan of Ben & Jerry’s
Jay Tandan began working at Ben & Jerry’s in 2009 as a shift lead, then as a social mission intern, and then worked his way into marketing in 2013. Now, as U.S. Digital Marketing Manager, he works to reach an ice cream–loving audience through digital mediums, while also helping to drive change through Ben & Jerry’s social mission to make the world a better place.
In our Q&A, Jay talks about the changes he’s seen in the 9 years that he’s been with the company, why Ben & Jerry’s takes a stance on political and social issues, and the potential risks this could bring to the brand.
What are the biggest challenges of your current role?
The biggest challenge of my, and many of my digital colleagues, role is the fast-moving nature of digital. We like to joke around and say that we all could rewrite our job descriptions every six months. While this makes things interesting, it requires the whole digital team to evolve really rapidly. It is reinventing the way people think about their jobs, and you need to be surrounded by people who don’t care about what’s in their job description, but people who want to reinvent themselves every day.
You’ve been with Ben & Jerry’s since 2009 and have worked in many different roles. Has all this experience benefited you as marketing manager?
Yes, I’ve had a winding road through the wacky world of Ben & Jerry’s, but each job has given me some unique perspectives of the business. In a great way, digital has extended itself throughout far more than just marketing. Digital is now a key tool across our business, including retail — where I got my start with the company — creative development through data-driven creative, and our corporate activism. My varying roles have helped me understand those elements of the business to then come back around and help support them through digital.
What changes have you seen in Ben & Jerry’s marketing efforts over the last decade?
The biggest changes have been the digitalization of our communications. We’ve been steadily shifting away from traditional marketing channels and towards digital channels. This is particularly impactful when it comes to the flexibility in being able to speak to a variety of topics. From our activism around things like climate justice, racial justice and money in politics, to non-dairy, ice cream and scoop shops.
Your session at the Social Media Strategies Summit is on building authentic relationships and driving a network of grassroots activists. So, why would an ice cream company take a stance on current events/politics and how has it impacted your social media efforts?
As Ben & Jerry’s, we take a stance on issues that we care about — it’s in the DNA of how the company was established by Ben and Jerry years ago. It continues to be one of the most important elements of the way we do business. We really believe that businesses have a responsibility — and a unique ability — to bring their voices to the table regarding policy solutions to many of society’s most critical issues.
Many of our campaigns are aimed at fixing the root cause of issues, and that is only done over time and at scale. Digital has given us the ability to reach activists at scale, and to message them continually about different topics over time. That is how we build real relationships with people over our shared values in a way that a $1 off coupon could never do.
Have you or your team ever perceived this stance as risky?
We feel that the only thing that would be risky for us is making a decision about how to step out on an issue in a vacuum. Without our NGO partners who are the boots on the ground for many of these issues year-round, we wouldn’t be able to push anything forward. We don’t wake up and decide we want to make a statement about this or that, we reach out to smarter minds than our own and lend the tools that we have to help further their cause that we share value in.
So as far as risk goes, it’s only risky if you’re making an uneducated decision. Usually, when we feel the pressure about a decision, it’s because we haven’t gotten enough input from the folks who know better than we do.
For brands that have taken similar positions but more or less failed, what are the most common mistakes they make, and what can they do to make their relationships more authentic?
I’d say that if we’ve learned one lesson over the past five years, it’s that doing real corporate activism is really not that similar to doing marketing. The strategies are different, the time horizons are different, and the partnerships are different. So about that whole ‘rewriting your job description every six months’ … But honestly, to my earlier point about NGO partners and movement leaders – we have really learned that this isn’t an area where we are the experts, and we must be one player in a larger movement, and lean on that movement and its vision to help guide us. Then we can step in with digital expertise and help drive their strategy forward.
And what everyone wants to know: What’s your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor?
I break it up into two categories (’cause who can pick one?). For vanilla flavors, it’s Americone Dream. For chocolate flavors, it’s Phish Food. I happen to be a fan of Phish the band too, so I guess that one wins at the end of the day!
View the list of speakers for the 2019 Social Media Strategies Summit in Anaheim, March 19-21, 2019.