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Fast Company has a story about how, if "Ben & Jerry’s is the most high-profile and popular poster child for the phrase 'brand purpose'," this may be the time that the poster comes down.

An excerpt:

"Ben & Jerry’s legacy and its ability to balance business and purpose has become as precarious as a bowl of Cherry Garcia left in the sun.

"In July, Ben & Jerry’s took the highly unusual and virtually unprecedented step of suing its parent company, Unilever, the $121 billion market cap global consumer packaged goods conglomerate. The case is over the parent company’s move to sell Ben & Jerry’s Israel business to a local licensee after Ben & Jerry’s itself announced in 2020 that, because of human rights concerns, it would not be selling its products in the West Bank.

"Ben & Jerry’s contends that handing over control of its brand to someone else in Israel would cause customer confusion around the values the brand has spent decades building and ultimately dilute and deteriorate its global reputation. Unilever, obviously, disagrees. This past week found the two companies in federal court arguing over whether Ben & Jerry’s merits a preliminary injunction to stop Unilever’s sale to the Israeli licensee."

The argument, Fast Company writes, is having an impact on Ben & jerry's culture:  "There’s a sense internally of a lack of transparency and communication about what’s really going on. Meanwhile, in the past the brand felt relatively free to weigh in on any issue that they felt relevant to speak out on. Now, Unilever is requiring a more stringent chain of corporate approvals … this is starting to breed a culture of self-censorship, leading to Ben & Jerry’s perhaps being a bit less engaged on issues compared with the last several years. The company has strong views on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the fight for reproductive health services, and trans rights, but given that things are harder internally, Ben & Jerry’s has been doing less in terms of adding its voice to these public debates."

The story suggests that the polarization in the Unilever-Ben & Jerry's relationship actually is a reflection of the broader polarization in the country;  there was more tolerance back in 2000 when Unilever bought Ben & Jerry's and agreed to let the brand follow its own conscience in taking cultural and political positions.

Fast Company goes on:

"If this is indeed a referendum on the compatibility between truly purpose-led brands and public corporations, what’s the most likely outcome? Given the lack of conciliatory communication between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, with each side digging in on their respective positions, the most likely - and discouraging for anyone hoping a more conscious version of capitalism was possible - outcome is that Unilever uses its size, power, and influence to play CPG Palpatine and crush this ice-cream rebellion … Eventually, Ben & Jerry’s could become just another subsidiary that spews vaguely progressive, feel-good platitudes, and the closest thing to activism we see from it in the future is posting an image of a rainbow flag on Instagram every June.

"That outcome will bring all corporate-owned, purpose-led brands into question, with people knowing that there is a limit to just how much purpose a brand can have. It should also weigh heavy on the minds of any social-good entrepreneurs considering an acquisition offer."

KC's View:

Or, the two sides can find peace and comity.

Nah.  Not likely.  Not these days.

If this break continues, I suspect that we're going to hear Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield weigh in, and it won't be pretty - they're going to argue that Unilever is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of their agreement.

I think it is fair to say that Unilever has shown more forbearance than one might have expected with Ben & jerry's over the past two decades, but as far as I'm concerned, the reason for buying Ben & Jerry's ice cream - at least for a lot of people - will instantly vanish.  A significant piece of the value proposition will have been diluted, and I think Unilever would be taking a big gamble with the brand's equity and core values.

It isn't exactly the same thing, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that "two of Paul Newman’s daughters sued the Newman’s Own Foundation, saying its leaders have strayed from their late father’s wishes and limited their involvement in its charitable giving.

"The Hollywood star created the Newman’s Own Foundation in 2005, three years before his death. The nonprofit controls a food company called Newman’s Own Inc. that funds the private foundation with its after-tax profits. The foundation had assets valued at about $234 million at the end of 2020, according to federal tax filings.

"The foundation’s board of directors in 2020 reduced the yearly amount that Mr. Newman’s daughters each receive to direct charitable donations - from $400,000 to $200,000 - a move they said is a violation of Mr. Newman’s wishes, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday by Elinor 'Nell' Newman and Susan Newman in a Connecticut state court.

"The lawsuit seeks $1.6 million in damages to be donated to the charities of the daughters’ choosing, along with a judgment that requires the foundation to abide by Mr. Newman’s wishes."

Now, the daughters seem to feel that management at the foundation are taking an approach their father wouldn't have sanctioned.  The foundation argues that it does not have to live up to the mandates as stated by the daughters, and the whole thing seems likely devolve into a messy court fight.

But as in the case with Ben & Jerry's, if the Paul Newman brand gets tarnished and there are questions about the foundation's charitable giving, there will be fewer reasons to buy his products.  And that would be a shame for an entity that has done so much good.