How #BLM and Racial Inequality Has Influenced Brand Marketing

Racism is, and has always been, rampant in this country. It actualizes itself in the disparities we see in healthcare, voter suppression, corporate success, and the criminal justice system. 

Champions like the late John Lewis and Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian dedicated their lives and leadership to these types of causes; and Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor are just some of the known names of our country’s devastating reality. As a marketing and PR agency in DC, we have seen the front lines of protests in the name of Black Lives Matter and have a duty to speak out and commit to being the change we want to see both at our office and within our industry. In fact, approximately 71% of U.S. adults say brands have a role in responding to the issues of racial injustice and police brutality. 

This blog post will explore how the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted brands, and specifically how different brands have attempted to speak out regarding current events. 

To understand why it is important for brands to engage with the movement, it is important to understand brands as having a distinct identity and not just as a corporate entity. In order to garner and maintain consumer relationships, brands cannot simply be transactional. Consumers want to align themselves with brands that embody their own values. Speaking out is especially important on topics such as systematic racism as it affects not only a company’s consumer base but also the internal culture and practices of a company itself. All in all – brands have a significant role in addressing these issues and those efforts must be genuine to positively engage consumers.

Now, there have been some classic examples of companies attempting and failing to make an effective statement. Maybe the most notable of these is the  Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Commercial. Instead of displaying accountability and a genuine commitment to change in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2017, this commercial ultimately trivialized the experience of those who have utilized protest as a point of reform. Ultimately, this mistake is now strongly associated with the Pepsi brand and is a prime example of tone-deaf marketing.

While a genuine commitment to anti racist leadership and the correction of past mistakes cannot boil down to one cookie-cutter template, any brand statement on equity, diversity and inclusion should generally include the following: introspection and reflection, accountability and admission of past mistakes, and clearly defined direct action for moving forward. Direct action can manifest itself in many forms such as monetary donations, pipeline diversity commitments, and internal education or training, among others.

Let’s dive into some brands that got it right this time around:

A Walk in Your Shoes: Reebok Strategy Drives Attention to the Issues, Not the Product

Reebok stepped up in their recent Instagram and Twitter posts regarding the #BLM protests. A recent post stated: “ We are not asking you to buy our shoes. We are asking you to walk in someone else’s.” The wording of this post is important as it does not exploit the situation but rather diverts attention to the issues as opposed to their products.

Silence is NOT an Option: Ben & Jerry’s Urge for Concrete Steps Toward Change

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is another example of a brand that didn’t just step up this time but has been continually committed to combating racism and injustice in this country. Their commitment to corporate activism, from environmental efforts to LGBTQ+ rights, has been around since the 1980s. Following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent eruption of protests, the Ben & Jerry’s executive board worked with Color of Change and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to issue ‘Silence is NOT an Option’ – a statement that supported Black Lives Matter and emphasized the urgent need to dismantle white supremacy in all forms.  

For Juneteenth, the organization’s activism team published a new mission to defund U.S. police forces.  Part of this work begins with Ben & Jerry’s using their social platforms to promote what effective corporate activism and policy reform could look like, rather than focusing on their ice cream products. In turn, consumers have voiced their support of Ben & Jerry’s and their statement.

Beauty In Action

The beauty industry, which has deep roots in promoting eurocentric standards, was long overdue for an overhaul. This is why the CEO of Uoma Beauty, Sharon Chuter, began the Pull Up or Shut Up challenge which asks brands to release the total number of black employees at their companies and to identify the levels at which those employees sit. The initiative gave companies 72 hours to “pull up” and release that data as well as their commitment to change or be “called out.”

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In the words of Sharon Chuter: “Action starts with accountability, and we have to make the public the custodians of this…” Many brands were receptive to the challenge and voluntarily called themselves out. One example is Glossier who not only participated in the challenge, but began a grant initiative for Black-owned beauty businesses. 

Finally, Reddit’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian took action by resigning so that his position of power and influence might be filled with a Black candidate. His direct action displays true candor and accountability. In his words, “I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now.”

Countless other brands began their journey of accountability and commitment to being anti racist over the last few weeks. It’s also important to note that corporate activism is not a marketing tool and is instead a part of the social responsibility organizations need to embrace in order to enact positive change and standing with their consumers. 

Here at Proof, we are committed to this change in our own organization beginning with our own statement “The Fourth Step” in which we commit to doing the work of corporate social responsibility and becoming anti racist. 

As a next step, Proof has begun an Anti- Racist Committee dedicated to leading strategic and institutional efforts aimed at achieving workplace parity for all employees and increasing our agency’s diversity.  The committee’s work emphasizes the importance of inclusive workplaces and elevates the agency’s efforts to combat structural racism.  For more information and to receive updates from this committee, please sign-up using the form at the bottom of the page.

Sonia Del Rivo

Sonia Del Rivo

Sonia is a California native who earned her B.S. in Decision Science from Carnegie Mellon University. Her love for communications is rooted in bridging the gap behind the hard data of human decision making and marketing. When not in the office, she loves scoping out new products at Trader Joes, going to concerts, and taking Instagram photos.

Rachel Hampton

Rachel Hampton

Rachel is New Jersey native who earned her B.A. in Journalism with a Broadcast News concentration from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Whether behind the editor’s desk or with a strategic communications plan, you can find Rachel leveraging her skills in digital and earned media to promote the mission-driven work of her clients. She’s a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’ who in her free time enjoys relaxing with retail therapy (also known as shopping) and exploring all that D.C. has to offer.

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