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This Week: How Brands are Responding to #BlackLivesMatter

How Do Consumers View Brands Who Speak Out vs. Brands Who Stay Silent?


The global protests of past week in response to the death of George Floyd are having a tremendous impact across all industries, leaving brands with a key question: Do we take a stance or sit it out?


In the past, brands have been hesitant to speak out on social issues in fear of sending the wrong message and alienating part of their audience. But modern consumers, especially younger demographics, have been vocal in expressing the desire for brands to use their platform to drive social change.


Here is a look at how some brands have responded to recent events, and how audiences have responded to brands:


#BlackoutTuesday

On June 2, the initiative known as BlackoutTuesday or #TheShowMustBePaused was a response from musicians, with artists demanding that the music industry, who largely profits off of the work of black artists, show support for the protests.


The initiative was conceived by Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas, both black female executives in the recording industry, who told NPR, "Our mission is to hold the industry at large, including major corporations + their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people accountable. To that end, it is the obligation of these entities to protect and empower the Black communities that have made them disproportionately wealthy in ways that are measurable and transparent."


Columbia, Interscope, Republic Records, and Universal Music Group are among the major record labels who have come forward in participation. Some people showed support by thanking the industry for “shutting down” for the day in efforts for solidarity.

Others questioned why brands were jumping so quickly to participate in this trend, wondering whether their efforts were an empty gesture, or if they actually carried good intentions and wanted to raise awareness to combat racism in the United States. Some met the campaign with skepticism.


Jon Platt, the chairman and CEO of SONY/ATV, the only black leader of a major global music company, wrote an open letter, A Change Must Come, addressing the need for music companies to take responsibility and "help lead society out of our crisis and onto the path of trust justice and equality."

Savage X Fenty by Rihanna was one of the many companies participating in #BlackoutTuesday. To take it a step further, they have stopped conducting any business on June 2nd in solidarity.


On Social Media

SheaMoisture, who has advocated for racial equality in the past, hosted an Instagram Live panel on Sunday evening, featuring Black thought leaders in different industries -- legal, journalism, mental health and politics, and use their platform to create a space where viewers can be heard and receive advice.

Jackie Aina, influential beauty Youtuber, responded to various brands' lack of a message, saying, “There are a lot of brands who love capitalizing on black culture, black music, black aesthetic, but are dead silent when it comes to talking about black issues and black struggles in our community. ...Say something when black people are being brutally murdered by cops... donate to families affected.”


Other brands such as Beauty Bakerie are using their social media platforms to share resources and promote ways to support the movement. The brand is advocating for audiences to educate themselves.


Donations

Just as happened in response to the COVID-19 crisis, a number of brands have taken the stance that donations make a more impactful statement than a press release.

Anastasia Beverly Hills pledged a $1,000,000 donation across several organizations, including Black Lives Matter, the Innocence Project, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund, Black Visions Collective, and The Marshall Project.

Bandcamp, an American online music company for independent artists and labels, announced on Monday that on Juneteeth (June 19) they will be donating the entirety of their profits to the NAACP.



Brands Who Faced Backlash

In contrast, some brands have not replied in what consumers deemed to be a timely manner.

L’Oréal Group’s Lancôme posted a statement of support on their social media platforms, but only after receiving a thread of comments asking them why they had not spoken up, already.



Nike

Nike has responded publicly in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and not for the first time. Back in 2018, Nike’s ad featuring Colin Kaepernick was the first major brand campaign to take on this issue publicly, and it certainly sparked a lot of interest, even winning an Emmy for Best Commercial.



On Friday, May 29, Nike spoke out again with its newest commercial, "For once, Don't Do It.


Response to this ad ranges from feeling it is an empty gesture...

To people praising Nike for repeatedly being vocal about Black Lives Matter, with the brand's clout adding awareness and legitimacy to the movement.


Brand marketers -- especially in a year dominated by one crisis after another -- risk losing their hard-earned audience affinity if they ignore the very real and pressing concerns at the forefront of that audience's mind. Brand involvement in social issues has become so ubiquitous that audiences now expect a response to important world events.


As we've seen this week, cultural expectations have evolved to the point where a brand's decision to say nothing about sensitive issues can be just as risky as the decision to take a stand.


Brands also have a fundamental role as purveyors of quality information. There is so much distortion and inaccuracy on social media based on image impressionism and provocative commentary. Brands reach consumers where they live, in real-time, to enable conversation. Marketing dollars should be used to educate and compel people to evolve.

- Richard Edelman, Edelman

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