In Conversation with Mia Bacarro from Ben & Jerry's

Natalie Dean-Weymark


February 13, 2024

This journal article is taken from Episode 5 of Compass Studio’s podcast series “In Conversation” hosted by Co-Founder and Director Natalie Dean-Weymark.

Mia Bacarro is the Integrated Marketing Manager for APAC for Ben & Jerry's, a global ice cream brand with a cult following. They have been around since the 1970s and not only are they loved for their epic flavours but their grassroots activism.

In this week’s episode of In Conversation, we delve into how Ben & Jerry's uses ice cream as their entry point to change the world. Read on, or listen here 👇

Q: What's your favourite campaign you’ve worked on and why?

A: This year at Ben and Jerry's, we launched exciting initiatives like Ben and Jerry's Sundaes, an indulgent product line with whip topping, and collaborated with Tony's Chocolate, a purpose-led brand. However, the standout campaign for me is "Save the Southern Sea" with Surfrider Foundation of Australia and Compass Studio. It's a grassroots effort raising awareness about seismic blasting, aligning with our brand's commitment to environmental justice. The campaign combines elements we love, including a powerful film and an ice cream truck touring the country fuelled by vegetable oil. It's not the flashiest but embodies Ben and Jerry's grassroots impact.

Ben & Jerry's most recent "Save the Southern Seas" campaign against seismic blasting in Australia.

Q: What do you wish you knew at the start of this campaign?

A: I wish I knew that things would work out. With numerous moving parts, I underestimated our fantastic, committed team's dedication and resourcefulness. Knowing we had the right people on board would have eased my initial concerns. In purpose-led spaces, it's about partnering with the right people, having the right messaging, and letting go. 

Q: How do you balance sales-driven aspects with purpose-driven authenticity?

A: At a brand like Ben and Jerry's, a big part of my job is talking about ROI and hitting the right KPIs. We have to be quite sales driven in certain aspects. Then on the other side, we're authentic, earnest and all about making an impact, some of which is not measurable. We try with the number of petitions signed or we talk about impressions or number of engagements, maybe how many MPs responded or how this member of parliament talked about us at one particular session. Ultimately the success is really in how we contributed to a larger movement.

Q: Is there a secret recipe for success in purpose-led campaigns?

A: Honestly, no. I'm not a cook but I am constantly trying to refine my cooking. I follow a recipe and sometimes it just doesn't end up the way you want. You can have all the right elements, you can have the right partners on board, you can have the right intentions and motivations, you can have simplicity in messaging or the most interesting creative, but sometimes things will just not go the right way. Suddenly, your target audience is not interested or something bigger in the world is happening that requires more attention and focus. There is no secret recipe and just like a bad cook like myself, it's about us trying to still have the main ingredients, the authenticity, the simplicity and the right partners, then trying until we have that perfect dish, whatever that is.

Q: What matters most with a big marketing budget?

A: With a big budget, a simple, digestible idea is key. Despite numerous channels, a central idea should be consistently communicated for effective and cohesive campaigns. Consumers need a clear entry point to understand the campaign instantly. If you’re given a budget that is six, seven, eight figures, I think a Marketer is frothing at the mouth to do this cool thing and that cool thing. However, all of these elements may not come together. At the end of the day, a consumer has probably one entry point into your campaign. In that instant, with that flash of a billboard, you should be able to communicate this very simple idea effectively.

Q: What's essential in a small budget campaign?

A: What I learned from our "Save the Southern Sea," campaign was that the right people are crucial in small budget campaigns. A committed, strategic, and resourceful team can turn limitations into strengths, creating something special.

Q: What's been your biggest external hurdle?

A: I think our identity as an ice cream company is an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to the purpose space. It allows us that top of mind awareness. People know who we are. But sometimes that is a double edged sword in a sense that people may think, “why are you talking about seismic blasting in Tasmania?” or “why are you talking about the Torres Strait Islands on your ice cream at Woolies?”. It’s a constant challenge for us. How do we marry these two identities of ours so that people are able to understand what we're trying to do? I think our way around it is essentially continuing to do more and partner with the right people.

As a marketer, I think the biggest hurdle is being a foreigner. How I overcome this challenge is essentially dig in and immerse myself. At some point I was watching old episodes of Kath and Kim, trying so hard to understand the context. In many ways it allows me to play a little bit of the blissful idiot. Then I take what I already know and what has worked in other countries and see if that would apply wherever I am.

Q: What are you reading at the moment for inspiration?

A: What I read is everything and anything under the sun, from The Australian, to the Wall Street Journal, to Britney Spears memoir and even parenting books as a first-time mum. It's just immersing myself in all of these different aspects that hopefully make me a more well-rounded marketer.

Q: What podcasts are you loving right now?

A: I'm into sociology thought leaders like Adam Grant and Esther Perel. They're amazing at communicating complex ideas into digestible ways all across multiple platforms. It's like a master class in content marketing.

Q: Who are the voices that always nail it for you?

A: Thought leaders like Adam Grant, James Clear, and Esther Perel redefine the term "influencer." They are influencers in the true sense, mastering content marketing and engaging audiences.

Q: Which brand are you always watching?

A: Patagonia is a brand I always watch. We talk about their campaigns and their approach within the team. We aspire to sort of the same level of kind of holistic commitment that they have to their causes, but also to their unparalleled commitment to quality and to their products.

Q: How have you responded to the changing consumer content habits?

A: I think we've just adopted a test and learn mindset. It's about trying new things and not being afraid of making mistakes. So in the last almost five years that I've been at Ben & Jerry's, I saw the rise of Snapchat, the demise of Snapchat. The rise of Instagram filters, the demise of Instagram filters, and the rise and fall, unfortunately, of Twitter. Then finally the age of TikTok. I feel like all of these platforms have so many different tactical implications and ultimately have that same challenge for us. How do we tell stories that are interesting and engaging and not just about selling our products? We're constantly testing different strategies, constantly trying new things. 

Here in Australia, Ben and Jerry's has made a conscious effort to profile and to feature local faces, local voices. It's not just about having that picture perfect grid on Instagram, it's about actually featuring real voices, whether in the activism space, whether even in the ice cream space. We want to be able to amplify our fans, amplify our partners, and really create that sort of authentic relationship on social media.

Like what you read? Listen to the full episode podcast with Mia Bacarro here or read more from our other In Conversation guests over on the Compass journal here

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