Priti Patel has entered her latest feud with an unlikely opponent… ice cream makers Ben & Jerrys. Patel couldn’t keep her cool after the frozen treats company challenged her on Twitter over her recent comments on the migrant ‘crisis’. As news outlets and the gov face criticism, are brands stepping up as the voice of the people? By Sadia Nowshin
What started it?
Ben & Jerry’s sent out a Tweet saying: “Hey @PritiPatel we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture. We pulled together a thread for you…”
The following thread then collected a range of articles on the topic of migrants and refugees to support their criticisms of the gov’s response. From highlighting that “people wouldn’t make dangerous journeys if they had any other choice” to stating that “Stronger’ borders aren’t the answer and only puts more lives at risk”, Ben & Jerry’s ended on a reminder that “we’re all human and have the same rights to life regardless of the country we happen to have been born in.”
The final tweet in the thread read “and once more for the back: PEOPLE CANNOT BE ILLEGAL”.
Despite some negative responses to their thread, Ben & Jerry’s didn’t melt under the pressure.
However, a representative for Priti Patel got a bit hot-headed, responding that “Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people”, snidely adding that “If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it”.
Clearly, the Home Office team don’t think Ben & Jerry’s are a big enough threat to be worried about.
But is this true, or are brands becoming more important when it comes to politics?
Sky News and BBC coverage caused a barrage of criticism this week. People condemned the outlets for being inhumane and voyeuristic as journalists waved cheerfully from the safety of their huge boat at people packed into a rubber dinghy, one of which passengers were trying to bail water out of.
Journalism should be people before stories, always. And filming a journalist shouting across the water at people in need, for the viewing pleasure of British citizens sat snugly in the very safety these migrants are trying to find, is grossly dehumanising.
From the BLM protests coverage to the migrant journeys being covered now, more of us are becoming disillusioned with the very news outlets and political parties who are supposed to convey the voice of the people. So, when the platforms we used to trust fail us, who do we turn to when we need issues to be voiced and challenged?
Well, ice cream, apparently.
Ben & Jerry’s have a track record of putting social and political commentary above trying to please as many people as possible, even though the latter would be expected from a brand trying to make money.
They gained a lot of support for their comments, as people commended their commitment to challenging the government on injustice. Their political stance has become a part of the brand identity, just as LUSH’s open support of social injustice campaigns and political statements is part of its appeal for ardent fans. Clearly, politics and profit are no longer incompatible.
If anything, recent calls for political and social change have emboldened more brands to get political, and companies are increasingly becoming platforms for these campaigns to find exposure.
The other side of the coin, however, is that no brand is perfect. Ben & Jerry’s has had controversy in the past with tax-evasion and LUSH came under fire from both sides of the political spectrum after their ‘Spy Cops’ window displays and, kind of ironically by contrast, their CEO gave police officers care packages in the midst of the BLM protests. Brands that piped up with anti-racism pledges were accused of empty statements when the shocking lack of diversity within their teams was exposed.
You can see why putting your faith in a brand whose primary function is to make money could be problematic, then. But in cases like Ben & Jerry’s tweets, where a major brand with a huge following on social media spreads information to combat misinformation and scaremongering and challenges those in power for a lack of action, it’s got to be better than nothing.
So… what do we do now?
The crux of the matter seems to be that while more brands are becoming platforms for social issues to be voiced, it’s probably good to keep some context in mind when we show our support for their statements.
We may have lost faith in the people currently in power, but if our faith in brands to become the voice of the people goes too far, we could end up with a tub of Phish Food as Prime Minister. Sure, the PM’s Questions might be just as productive as they have been so far, but what we’ve currently got is (probably) easier to work with than that: politics is possibly the one problem ice cream just can’t fix.