Should brands act, behave, and communicate like people?
I’m sick and angry. It may seem like 1968 this past week — but folks, it’s 2020. Can’t we have a generation raised that eschews privilege based on race, and just respects each individual, all individuals, with love and merit as our default?
Obviously this is a personal perspective, and thank you for allowing me to indulge. So let me also ask again: Can and should brands make such statements of their own?
Content: Getting Past the Predictable to the Unique
This past week, I was fortunate to listen in on a Direct Marketing Club of New York “midweek recharge” teleconference on COVID-19 and brand loyalty, led by current DMCNY President Ginger Conlon and Deb Gabor, principal and founder of Sol Marketing (Austin, TX). How ironic that our inboxes are filled with “We’re all in this together” type messages from brands, while this past week we’re also very much reminded that, in reality, we really are not all in this together. People of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, just as they are with police brutality and a host of other societal aspects.
Gabor was insistent that brands very much act like people — and should. Authenticity must be the measure, however, in what they have to say, she reported. The content of such messages needs to be driven from the core principles of what the brand stands for, rather than from a cookie-cutter response at what competitors may be doing or saying.
With regard to COVID-19, one might think of ways brands could communicate to customers about how they are protected when doing business with the brand. But is this the best, first message?
Perhaps, a more important constituency might come first: how these messages are stronger when they focus on employee well-being and a thankfulness for first-responders and essential workers. I duly appreciate Wal-Mart and Amazon brands for emphasizing these aspects in their current advertising and marketing. Certainly, these brands are not without vulnerability. There’s much attention on such brands regarding living wages and labor participation in the management of their business strategies, even as they hire thousands of workers amid this employment crisis.
Unique Statements Anchored in Core Values and Empathy
We cannot forget about empathy, and how this must be part of any brand social commentary regarding race, gender, sexual identity, or housing and economic status. As Americans, we need to draw a line anywhere where discrimination and hate, ambivalence or indifference, rears its ugly head. Ben & Jerry clearly shows where it stands on Black Lives Matters, and minces no words:
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 2, 2020
Even in the world of ad tech, we’ve seen some powerful statements, such as this one from San Francisco-based TechSoup, a company which offers software solutions in the philanthropy community, and is putting its resources to work. In an email, CEO Rebecca Masisak and Chief Community Impact Officer Marnie Webb co-wrote:
We need more than the reallocation of resources; we need systems changed. We need to be a part of that, in our organization, in our communities, and in our country.
This is what we are doing right now to address a piece of the crisis in the U.S.:
• Continue to investigate our own privilege so that we can embed racial equity into our work.
• Make the reach of our platforms available for the voices that need to be heard. Right now, at this moment, that means:
• Active listening
• Amplifying the messages of Black-led community organizations, philanthropists, and journalists
• Inviting others who want to make use of our platform to use it to share their messages and engage others in communication
• Raise money to defray the costs and support the optimization of technology for Black-led organizations and community groups.
Brands and Support for Democracy
Among trade associations, cheers, too, for the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) for enabling its employees this week to dedicate paid time off each month to work for social change:
And I applaud @r2rothenberg for his leadership on this issue. I hope it inspires executives at other companies and organizations to follow suit by enacting policies that encourage their employees to more actively participate in the democratic process.
— Alex Propes (@alexpropes) June 4, 2020
These brands are indeed acting like people — because they are composed of people (investors, owners, customers, employees) who are motivated to share their values in a powerful way. Not every brand may be in a position to speak on racial injustice, or COVID-19, with authenticity. But we — as members of the human race — might best stand for each other. What other choice do good folks, and good brands, have?