“Linsanity” – did it go too far?

It’s just ice cream – or is it? The folks at Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream are known for having an irreverent sense of humor in their ice cream flavors and names. (Remember last winter’s “Schweddy Balls” ice cream – a spoof of a famous Saturday Night Live episode with Alec Baldwin?) The company may not always hit a home run, but they go to up to the plate swinging and fearless.

The latest Ben & Jerry’s controversy centers around New York basketball star Jeremy Lin. The 23-year old Harvard graduate is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. Following on his success on the basketball court, the tall star has been actively courted and signed deals with companies to use his name and profile on their products, including the perennial sports powerhouse – Nike.

But back to ice cream – in honor of the local Harvard grad, the Ben & Jerry’s Harvard Square “scoop shop” in Cambridge, launched its own tribute to Lin with a new flavor dubbed “Taste the Lin-Sanity.” The ice cream is a mixture of vanilla frozen yogurt and lychee honey swirls, and was originally served with fortune cookie pieces mixed into the ice cream. However, the fortune cookie inclusion brought on complaints that the company was racist.  Consumer backlash on social media sites quickly prompted the company to reformulate the product and use waffle cone pieces instead of fortune cookies. The company apologized on Facebook, noting that the intent was to “create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA.”

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Have students review the Ben & Jerry’s Web site. http://www.benjerry.com/
    1. What are flavors?
    2. How does the company use packaging effectively?
    3. What are the target markets? Distribution channels?
    4. How does the company do its research and product development?
    5. What are implications for charges of racism in the product?
      1. What specifically was done?
      2. What groups were offended? Why?
      3. How could Ben & Jerry’s have avoided this situation?
      4. What are implications for other companies with regards to offending ethnic groups?
      5. What are other examples of companies using promotion or components that could be considered racist?
      6. Bonus: for fun, show the “Schweddy Balls” video clip and discuss the use of humor by Ben & Jerry’s. http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/feature/schweddy/
        1. When does humor work? When does it not work?
        2. What was the backlash from this product and consumer groups?

 

 

Source:  Brandchannel.com 2/28/12, New York Times, Boston Globe

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