Brand Activism and Popular Support Both Rising

The BLM movement that reignited after the deaths of George Floyd and several other African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officials has also sparked sweeping changes and improvements in a growing number of companies and communities.

Add to that a groundswell of public support as evidenced by recent surveys. A recent one, by market research firm Piplsay, revealed that 65% of the more than 30,000 Americans polled feel that brands should take a stand against racism.

What’s more, nearly half (46%) believed action by brands will lead to credible change. For marketers still sitting on the sidelines, here’s a reason to consider changes: 56% revealed they would be most willing to buy from brands that speak out against racism. Generation Z and Millennials are known for being even more supportive. 62% said they would buy from these brands.

The survey was dampened somewhat with this finding: 61% said they weren’t entirely sure that removing racist labels and mascots would make a big difference. Another 31% felt that companies should first remove racial bias within their organizations.

Responses and changes by some brands have proven the divisive nature of some of the responding ads. This was evidenced in ads by P&G and YouTube. Although the ads supported Black Lives Matter, an analysis by Ace Metrix, a California advertising analytics firm, placed the two ads in what they called a “danger zone” where viewers considered both as being exploitive. Nike, on the other hand, inverted its “Just Do It” slogan to “For Once, Don’t Do It” in a plea to consumers to not ignore racism. Ace Metrix’s survey found that 60% of consumers found it empowering.

Ace Metrix discovered other ads that resonated with consumers in speaking out against racism without exploiting the topic. They included the NBA, Sprite and Papa John’s. The common thread in these was that they spoke to demonstrating corporate responsibility instead of lecturing their audiences. Piplsay’s survey appeared to confirm that strategy, with 31% of respondents saying they wanted to see brands act before speaking.

Another ad that supported BLM and was sharply criticized was MacDonald’s. Its ad identified seven Black people recently killed by police or others. Although it may have empowered viewers, some like the NAACP felt it was exploitive by jumping on a popular issue while not addressing complaints and concerns from its own Black employees about COVID-19 safety procedures in its own workplace.

Lessons learned

Brands that believe in fairness and equality need to look and act first internally before going public. Doing this will not only cement the company’s position with its own employees but also gain their respect, trust, and loyalty. This would be critical in going public with any racially motivated stand or ad. 

Employees who embrace the company’s position can either be the organization’s best advocates or worst critics. Consider the discrimination lawsuits this century alone against giants like GE, Walmart, Southern California Edison, and Abercrombie & Fitch. Don’t be accused of slacktivism. No amount of advertising will erase the negativity from settlements like these, except strong, positive action.

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