Black Lives Matter proves that today more than ever, brands are being held accountable for their words
The unjust killing of George Floyd on 25th May has ignited an inspiring wave of protest around racial inequality, systematic injustice, and police brutality. Following the video footage of the incident going viral, tensions have escalated in the US, with voices echoing support all around the world for the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) in the form of organized protests, petitions, and a widespread call to action on social media. Although we’ve seen starkly similar events draw attention and public outrage in recent years, this incident seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back – sparking critical conversations around race in various parts of the world, but also bringing brand activism to the forefront of the discussion.
In the same way that protestors are calling for urgent action from authorities, consumers are demanding that brands take tangible action as opposed to making generic statements when showcasing their solidarity with the black community. Brands are being called out for releasing hollow statements of support without making any visible contribution to the cause. At the same time, there is significant and justified pressure for brands to prove whether their internal structures are truly reflective of the diverse ideologies they communicate, as seen in the #Pulluporshutup Campaign, which asked brands to reveal how many black employees hold corporate and leadership positions in the workplace. Essentially, the message from today’s audience is loud and clear – “Words are not enough. Show us the receipts.”
HAVAS’s Meaningful Brands Study reveals that 55% of consumers believe brands actually have a more important role than governments to create a better future. This means that today’s highly informed and engaged consumers expect brands to go beyond function and be socially impactful, take a stand, and reflect their personal values – Essentially, brands are believed to be stewards for change. The BLM movement has re-affirmed the urgency to seriously consider how brands are transforming words into action. In a world where consumers are deeply and emotionally involved in social justice issues, it’s also critical for brands to become involved authentically and cautiously, as the wrong move can prove to be destructive. So, the question remains, how can brands go beyond optics and prove a genuine commitment to allyship?
Start with your network – Upon announcing a day off for reflection for HAVAS’ North America and UK offices in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, CEO Yannick Bolloré said “the purpose of this day is to contemplate our roles in improving racial justice and diversity in and outside of our business, to take personal action or to do whatever you feel best serves you, your personal journey, your loved ones and your communities.” As agencies, it is our responsibility to actively work on resources, programming and actions that will support our strategic foundation and inform our work for clients.
Don’t underestimate your audience – Individuals today are increasingly feeling a need to take personal responsibility in improving the world we live in. Thus, their purchasing decisions serve as a means to do this and social media plays an important role when it comes to driving change. When consumers are convinced that a brand is aligned with their view of the world, they are happy to not only remain loyal to the brand, but also act as genuine brand ambassadors both online and offline. On the flipside, making a wrong move can prove destructive for a brand, and consumers are quick to abandon brands that don’t adhere to their values. In fact, HAVAS’s research shows that consumers would not care if 77% of brands disappear today. With that said, the winning brands of tomorrow will go further than purpose marketing, and translate ideas into concrete action that will resonate with consumers.
Identify the right tools before taking part in the conversation– For brands who truly want to increase trust markers and build stronger consumer engagement, it’s important to identify the tools that will help them become more socially active in a relevant manner. In today’s turbulent world, it is clear that supporting the communities and the environments that brands exist in will help them win. Implementing social listening tools to understand concerns and general sentiment will help determine how to contribute in an authentic manner.
Look inward before speaking outward – Brands need to genuinely ask themselves if they have directly or indirectly contributed to the problem in the past. A part of this means truly examining whether the values and sentiments being voices through campaigns are being adhered to within internal structures. When it comes to diversity, are the teams working on these campaigns representative of the message? If you’re able to identify problem areas, own up to it and be transparent about how your brand is taking measurable steps to improve. Otherwise, by not acknowledging mistakes, they could find themselves on the chopping block.
Walk the Walk – Slacktivism is defined as “supporting a cause by performing simple measures, without necessarily being engaged or devoted to making a change.” When a brand chooses to take part in the conversation, it’s critical to commit to how to tackle the problem in the long term as opposed to making a performative statement. This means being vocal about monetary contributions, as well as leveraging platforms to amplify calls to action and drive the conversation forward, as demonstrated by Ben & Jerry’s.
Being an ally to a cause is a long-term process that requires taking the conversation offline. Once brands prove their genuine commitment, loyalty will follow.