Brands Cannot Be Silent and Ignore Injustice

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, which sparked protests not only in the U.S. but around the world, countless influencers and celebrities spoke out across social media and online platforms to fight racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

One brand that continues to demonstrate bravery when it comes to addressing race relations is Nike, who released a new ad across its digital channels. The ad featured plain white text over a black screen stating:

For once, don’t do it.

Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.

Don’t turn your back on racism.

Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us.

Don’t make any more excuses.

Don’t think this doesn’t affect you.

Don’t sit back and be silent.

Don’t think you can’t be part of the change.

Let’s all be part of the change.

Nike doesn’t shy away from taking a stand on issues of race, evident from their Colin Kaepernick ad in Sept. 2018. There were many other brands that made statements on social media in response to the tragedy, including the NFL, Netflix, and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few. Following its original May 30 post, Netflix shared the following on June 10, letting followers know of its intention to highlight Black storytelling:

There also have been brands that have pledged significant donations to related organizations and initiatives, including Warby Parker and Peloton.

Standing up and addressing societal issues isn’t a new concept in marketing. Marketing leaders have been talking about and advising brands to be brave and bold for years. But there are still some brands too hesitant to speak out and take action. Why?

You don’t need significant resources to communicate your support and condolences, but you must be genuine and authentic in however you share your message. Accept that you can’t please everyone and there will be critics, but sharing your support and values is important. When speaking out about social issues, consider the following:

  • Talk to your employees: Use internal channels to reach employees and initiate a two-way conversation.
  • Think about the appropriate channels: Social media can be an ideal place to join the dialogue, but you may have a good reason to email your subscribers.

And where it’s possible, find ways to align with a cause that complements your brand’s values and focuses on supporting racial and social justice.

Consumers and employees want to know that brands are paying attention and will not tolerate inequality, violence, and prejudice. Now is the time to make a statement and help facilitate change.

Social Commentary in Authentic Brand Messaging

Should brands act, behave and communicate like people? Authenticity must be the measure. The content of any social commentary 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.

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:

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:

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?