Maybe because they were in such a rush to cash in on a chance to link their brand with a rising star, Ben & Jerry’s didn’t think twice about what turned out to be a really dumb idea. The idea: putting crushed fortune cookies into their new “Taste the Lin-Sanity” frozen yogurt, which they started selling in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fortune cookies? Get it? Rags-to-riches New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin, currently the hottest sports star in the country, is Taiwanese? You get fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants!
The ingredient choice was widely perceived as racist … which is something any good focus group, or even a chat over a beer with a trusted friend, could have revealed in five minutes. Social media feedback was brutal, and Ben and Jerry’s was stuck with a PR nightmare. They quickly apologized and replaced the fortune cookies with bits of waffle cone.
I see three big lessons from this episode.
1) Any creative process has to give you the freedom to come up with a wide range of ideas, some of which are going to suck. And no, it’s not a crime to come up with a bad idea. In fact, you usually need bad ideas if you’re going to get to the one great idea you need. But in an era when negative consumer and media feedback happens not in days or hours, but in minutes, you’ve got an obligation to test any idea well enough to protect your brand before you launch something embarrassing on consumers. Ben & Jerry’s didn’t do that.
2) If you screw up, you have to accept full responsibility and fix the problem, quick. To their credit, Ben & Jerry’s did do that.
3) Last but not least, we all love a great “underdog struggles and wins” story, and Lin’s is one of the best to come along in a long time. Undrafted, cut by two teams, and reduced at one point to camping out on his brother’s couch, Lin has come out of nowhere to generate some much-needed excitement at Madison Square Garden … and get the NBA buzzing. To see what all the excitement is about, click the link below.
LINKS: ESPN: Ben & Jerry’s sorry for fortune cookies