A month after getting arrested for protesting at the US Capitol in support of voting rights, the founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream have found a more palatable way to spread their message of justice.
The company this week released a new ice cream flavor, called Empower Mint, a peppermint ice cream bursting with fudge brownies and swirls, plus a dose of Democracy.
"This fudge-filled flavor reflects our belief that voting gives everyone a taste of empowerment, and that an election should be more 'by the people' and less 'buy the people!' " writes the company on the website for its new flavor and new political campaign against the corrupting effects of money in politics and against discriminatory voting laws in some states.
The ice cream makers have never been shy about promoting social and environmental causes; in fact, advocacy is part of Ben & Jerry's DNA. But increasingly more companies are taking bold political stands in recent years, weighing in publicly and sometimes forcefully on issues including LGBT, immigration, gun control and the environment.
Their increasing corporate activism appears to be resonating with consumers, according to the Global Strategy Group, which in 2014 reported that a majority of Americans – 56 percent – thought it is appropriate for companies to stand up for what they believe politically regardless of whether or not it is controversial. This was based on an online survey of 613 adults 18 years old and older.
Melissa D. Dodd, an advertising professor from University of Central Florida, found in her research last year that Americans – particularly in the under 35 age groups – are 8 percent more likely to buy from a company that shares their values, and equally less likely to buy from a company that doesn't.
"In other words," she wrote in a Forbes column last year, "it’s no longer just about whether a person likes the product or service, it's about whether they like the company's stance on certain pertinent issues."
Most recently, companies including PayPal, Target, and Lionsgate have publicly opposed a new North Carolina law that requires transgender people to use bathrooms and lockers that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates. PayPal in October went so far as to drop its plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte, N.C., a $3.6 million investment loss for the city and state.
"This decision reflects PayPal's deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect," said Dan Schulman, president and chief executive officer of PayPal in an announcement of the investment withdrawal on April 5.
Target weighed in on the bathroom laws last month by proclaiming publicly that it would allow employees and customers to use any bathrooms they want. Now a conservative Christian group is organizing a boycott of the retailer to protest its stance.
Dr. Dodd, the advertising professor, highlighted several other examples of corporate advocacy in her column:
In addition to the debate about marriage, other social-political issues such as gun control and health care reform are finding their way into corporate culture and rhetoric. The fast-casual restaurant, Chipotle asks its customers not to carry firearms into its restaurants. Whole Foods has openly opposed the Obama Administration’s recent healthcare reform. And Hobby Lobby famously brought the issue before the US Supreme Court, arguing that the Affordable Care Act violated their religious freedom by requiring that the company provide coverage of contraceptives. The list goes on.