Ben & Jerry’s Drops Email in Favor of Social Media: Industry Reactions

Two weeks ago, Ben & Jerry’s announced they were “giving up” on email marketing in favor of social media. Note: Later that day, the @cherrygarcia Twitter account reported that this was a UK-only change.

Update: Our friends over at The eMail Guide took the time to email the PR folks at Ben & Jerry’s. Here’s what their PR Director, Sean Greenwood, had to say – personally, I don’t think it changes the story dramatically.

As you can imagine, the email marketing industry was up in arms. There was a collective “Noooooooooo” followed by “Are they kidding?” The Inbox Insiders – an email marketing list created by Bill McCloskey that boasts some of the sharpest marketers from many of the largest brands in the world as well as a host of vendor side (email service provider) folks – decided to weigh in. Here is what a few of them had to say…

    21st century brands need to ‘behave’, not just tell stories, as behavior is tangible and real, and empowers Consumers to shape their own brand experience. That shaping is what drives advocacy and rampant love of the brand. Ben & Jerry’s clearly has heard what their customers want, and currently do not want, and are behaving accordingly. Sweet, creamy customer-centricity!

Andy Goldman*
SVP, Strategy & Integration


    The same discussion now about social vs email took place decades ago regarding radio vs newspapers and TV vs radio. History repeats itself. Of course some social evangelists and fan boys/girls will hoot about this vindicating social as better than any other medium, but comments such this are not motivated by any kind of insight. At this point they are driven by wishful thinking and personal agendas. In other words, this recurring discussion is more political than practical. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are proprietary platforms controlled entirely by their owners, while email is a standard supported globally and that sets it apart.

Jim Ducharme
The eMail Guide


    While Ben & Jerry’s UK marketing department is listening to their customers, which is always applauded, this is shortsighted from a business perspective. Email and social media are significantly more powerful when used together versus independently. Further, with email marketing, you own your email list, whereas Facebook and Twitter followers are owned by those respective properties. Rather than replacing email with social media altogether, Ben & Jerry’s should focus on improving the value of their email programs for their subscribers by integrating social elements and exclusive offers (e.g. use a 24 hr. “flash” discount to drive traffic into retail stores or use email to launch a social word of mouth campaign.)

Kristin Hersant*
Director, Corporate Marketing


    Facebook and Twitter may be working well for them now, but will that hold true into next year? The year after? Five years from now? And if they disband their email program now and decide they need it later, how easy will it be to resuscitate those email relationships? I’m not anti-social media. It’s just that I’ve been on panels where the topic is “Email is Dead, Long Live X” where X = RSS/Blogs/MySpace, etc. And none of them have actually, to date, replaced email.

Jeanne S. Jennings
Consultant, Email Marketing Strategy, Inc.


    The “inbox” – defined as a destination for content from both people we know and brands we like – has fragmented.  It’s online, on my device, in Facebook and Twitter and at a business address.  Great email marketing has always been about great content, and that is more true today as email marketers compete for budgets and customer attention with social, mobile and even offline marketing.  Why keep your investment in email?  Frankly, the question must be, How can we best utilize email to connect with customers and prospects in ways that help achieve our business KPIs?

    If you can’t come up with a strong strategy to answer, then you are either missing a big opportunity or won’t find ROI in the channel.

Stephanie Miller*
VP, Global Market Development
Return Path


    Ben & Jerry’s made a bold move and now they are getting the media benefit of that decision. In the short run, I think they will benefit from this move. However, in the long run, they have made a decision that abandons a lot of paying customers that may have wanted to hear from them, but don’t actively engage in social media. In our research on how consumers engage brands through Email, Facebook and Twitter we see consumers layering these activities to get closer to brands. Consumers don’t operate in silos and marketers shouldn’t either.

Morgan Stewart*
Director, Research and Strategy


    Part of me has to think (hope?) that Ben & Jerry’s UK has run the numbers and determined that forgoing email marketing in favor of social media is the best option for them. I don’t understand why they’d abandon email marketing altogether. Why not give their subscribers a choice?

DJ Waldow*
Director of Community
Blue Sky Factory


    Such a shame that brands can’t think “one to one” in the digital age and have to kiss goodbye to a fantastic relationship-building channel.  The skills needed to make a success of social media are not that different to email marketing, so I fear that B&J may be running away from email to an equally unforgiving world of Facebook and Twitter.  Lucky for them that the ice cream’s so good.

David Hughes
The Email Academy, Ltd


    Most CPG brands struggle to create robust CRM programs with very tiny budgets. It sounds as though B&Js has simply made a budget-related decision to move to the least expensive channel available so they can reach out more often to their customers.  Email will still have a place in their communications arsenal despite the announcement – after all, how do all their Facebook fans know when they have a message from B&Js? Email. Of course, it’s an email that doesn’t cost B&Js anything to send – though it goes to a much smaller audience than they could likely send to directly.

Gretchen Scheiman
Partner, Associate Director, CRM
OgilvyOne worldwide


    I applaud Ben & Jerry’s for getting customer feedback before making a very strategic decision. However, I think the mistake is that they aba
nonded email rather than letting customers choose their preferred communication channel. After all, this is a company that offers 108 flavors. Since many customers prefer chocolate to vanilla, are they going to eliminate vanilla now too?

Simms Jenkins
BrightWave Marketing &


    Email is a core driver of many successful social marketing programs.  I’m just not sure if anyone has articulated this to Ben & Jerry’s or showed them an effective way to integrate email & social into an effective program.

Chris Baggott*


    Their decision certainly seems shortsighted. Are they completely overlooking email as a coupon distribution channel? If their subscribers were getting high-value coupons exclusive to being on the list, maybe they’d have liked the program more.  Although B&J doesn’t have quite the same distribution model as ColdStone Creamery, they could take a few lessons from their competitors in the retail ice cream space (I’m thinking of Rita’s Ice too).

Karen Talavera*
Email & Digital Marketing Coaching, Training & Strategy
Synchronicity Marketing


    Each year Ben & Jerry’s kills 8 to 12 ice cream flavors. In 2010, at least in the UK, it looks like Email Marketing has gone to the ice cream Flavour Graveyard just like Peanut Butter & Jelly did more than a decade ago. But Ben & Jerry’s decision in the UK to pull back on Email Marketing and focus on new marketing flavors like Social Media speaks to their unique customers and marketing approach, not to any decline in email marketing’s popularity and effectiveness. After all, while Cherry Garcia is Ben & Jerry’s top seller, vanilla is still the most popular ice cream flavor in the world.

Loren McDonald*
VP, Industry Relations


    Totally abandoning email in favor of social is short sighted and antithetical to Ben & Jerry’s efforts, since email marketing can be and is one of the most powerful drivers of social media participation. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive last year found that 96% of Americans were willing to provide companies with their email addresses in order to receive offers and discounts, compared to just 12% that were willing to provide their social media “digits” to do the same (e.g., their Facebook handle). Smart marketers are using email as the gateway to social — acquiring customers’ email addresses first, and then directing them down the funnel towards social media channels.

Jordan Cohen
VP, Business Development


Where do you stand? What is your take. Good (strategic) decision by Ben & Jerry’s or just plain madness?

– DJ Waldow
Director of Community
Blue Sky Factory

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*eec Member

One thought on “Ben & Jerry’s Drops Email in Favor of Social Media: Industry Reactions

  1. In general it probably makes sense for them or they wouldn’t be doing this. It’s the same with any media buy. You’re not going to pull the plug on something that’s really working for you or continue sinking cash into something that isn’t.

    They could also be downsizing the UK offices and don’t have the staff to devote to it or to turn it into to something amazing with a big ROI.

    Whatever the reasoning, it’s simply a business decision and doesn’t make any comment on the value of email marketing.

    Email works, that’s proven. Social media also works (Old Spice anyone). It all comes down to the talent, time, skill and creative energy of the people using the tools.

    Kirk Bentley
    Sr. Acct Mgr. / Email Marketing

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