Ben & Jerry's Rock the Vote
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Ben & Jerry's Rock the Vote

Ben & Jerry’s, a company known for its social mission and values, joined forces with Rock the Vote to encourage youthful consumers to register to vote, learn about campaign issues and turn out at the polls in November 2004 and beyond.

Paul Holmes

Ben & Jerry’s, a company known for its social mission and values, joined forces with Rock the Vote to encourage youthful consumers to register to vote, learn about campaign issues and turn out at the polls in November 2004 and beyond. 

In the spirit of democracy, the company created a new Rock The Vote ice cream flavor to remind Americans about the importance of voting.  It then gave consumers the chance to name the new flavor – a mouth-watering strawberry cheesecake ice cream with strawberries and a thick graham cracker swirl.  In serious, but a tongue-in-cheek contest, ice cream lovers had the opportunity to nominate names for the new flavor and then elect the winning name from three final candidates.

A total of 71,000 people nominated candidates for the flavor name in the “primary,” while a whopping 365,000 voted in the “general election.”  With 37 percent of the total vote, the winner – “ Primary Berry Graham” – thus became the first democratically elected flavor name in Ben & Jerry’s history.  With 114 television and print stories appearing nationally and more than 1,000 cable stories, the contest prompted 18,000 young Americans to register to vote on the Rock the Vote web site.

The Challenge

Ben & Jerry’s sought a way to build a campaign that would drive voter participation in the 2004 presidential elections, as well as support the brand, leverage its social mission legacy and effect meaningful change.  The brand decided to partner with Rock the Vote, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting freedom of expression and empowering young people to change their world.  A Ben & Jerry’s and Rock the Vote partnership was a logical venture, as both organizations share similar values and have a primary target audience of 18- to 24-year olds.

Ben & Jerry’s first partnership initiative was to create an election-themed ice cream flavor, in honor of Rock the Vote, to remind people about the importance of voting.  A portion of the proceeds of the flavor will go toward Rock the Vote’s efforts to register new voters and get more people involved in the political process.  Ben & Jerry’s challenged M Booth & Associates to create a public relations campaign that would create excitement around the new Rock the Vote flavor and drive voter registration among young Americans.

Research, Planning Process and Objectives

Voter turnout in American presidential elections has been on a downward spiral for four decades.  From a high of 62.8% participation in 1960, the percentage of eligible voters who actually voted dropped to below 50% in 1996.  In 2000, in the most closely contested presidential election in history, only 51% of all eligible voters turned out. 

Young people, aged 18 to 24, voted in even lower numbers:  only 32% of them voted in 2000, a year in which just a few thousand more votes in a few states, most notably Florida, could have changed the outcome.  Additional research showed by contrast that roughly 75% of all American Idol viewers (also largely 18 – 24 year olds) cast votes to crown the 2003 winner.  We wanted to create a campaign that would engage this audience.

The primary objectives of the campaign were to:
• Generate awareness of the Ben & Jerry’s/Rock The Vote partnership and the new election-themed flavor
• Register young Americans to vote via the Rock the Vote web site

Strategic Approach

To generate awareness and excitement about the partnership and the flavor and encourage young Americans to register to vote, M Booth & Associates created a democratic contest to name the new election-themed flavor.  The contest consisted of two phases – a “primary,” during which creative citizens nominated candidates for the new flavor name, and a “general election,” during which people hit the online polls to democratically elect the winning flavor name from three final candidates.  The candidate that received the most votes became the official flavor name, and since it was an online contest, every vote counted and there was no danger of dimples or hanging chads!

We positioned the contest as a practice round for voting in the 2004 Presidential election and encouraged young Americans to register to vote so their voices can be heard in the upcoming election.

To publicize the contest, M Booth implemented a three-part media strategy.  The first wave announced the contest with a press release, print and broadcast media outreach and b-roll package distributed via satellite to TV stations across the country.  The b-roll package included soundbites from Jehmu Greene, president of Rock the Vote.  As a result of some partner scheduling issues, the timing for the initial announcement coincided with Labor Day, a difficult weekend to garner media coverage because of skeleton crews at television stations.  We overcame the timing issues by implementing a strong media relations campaign in the second two waves of the contest. 

During the second phase, we conducted another round of print and broadcast media outreach, issued a press release announcing the three flavor name finalists and distributed an updated b-roll package with soundbites from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield about the importance of registering to vote and voting.  We also distributed Ice Cream by Mail (ICBM) packages to key national and local TV stations across the country so they could be the first to taste the as-yet-unnamed flavor.  The ICBMs included pints of the new flavor with a question mark where the product name would normally appear, shipped in a reusable Styrofoam cooler with dry ice.

The third phase consisted of a final press release announcing the winning flavor name and the name of its creator, as well as telephone interviews with the contest winner in key media outlets.

Campaign Execution

AOL created an online area for members to submit election-themed names for the new flavor, and 71,000 members answered the call.  A team from Ben & Jerry’s, Rock the Vote and AOL reviewed all entries and narrowed the nominees down to 125 of the best flavor names.  Then, a larger team from Ben & Jerry’s, Rock the Vote and M Booth voted on their favorite names and selected three final candidates:
• Primary Rock-us Caucus
• Primary Berry Graham
• My Straw(berry) Vote  

Ben & Jerry’s gave America Online members the chance to name the new flavor and 365,000 members voted in the online election.  Primary Berry Graham, with 37 percent of the vote, edged out Berry Rock-US Caucus (34 percent) and My Straw(berry) Vote (29 percent).  Rock the Vote also registered 18,000 new voters throughout the duration of the contest.

To encourage people to nominate flavor names, we created an enticing prize.  In addition to getting his or her name suggestion immortalized on a Ben & Jerry’s pint, the creator of the winning name also won a trip for two to Burlington, VT to spend a day in the Ben & Jerry’s “Bizarre & D” lab making a batch of the Rock The Vote flavor, a trip for two to the Rock The Vote awards in Los Angeles, and a year’s worth of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  The inaugural pint of Primary Berry Graham hits store shelves in Spring 2004.

Summary of Results

Media: The Ben & Jerry’s and Rock the Vote flavor naming contest generated more than 13 million media impressions.  The b-roll package generated 114 airings in key markets, with an additional 1,300 airings on a syndicated cable show.  WB11 Morning News and Good Day New York featured segments on the new flavor and the flavor-naming contest.  The Kansas City Star ran a feature article of the home-town winner.

Consumers: More than 71,000 AOL members nominated flavor names and 365,000 people voted on the flavor name they wanted to see on the oval pint.  The contest was featured on “Welcome Screen” – AOL’s home page, which receives tens of millions of impressions daily.

Registered Voters:  18,000 citizens registered to vote through the Rock the Vote web site.

View Style:

Load 3 More
comments powered by Disqus