Marketing Under the Microscope #4
SMS supports the Black Lives Matter Movement and stands in solidarity with the Black and Indigenous communities, as well as other minorities who have faced systematic oppression and racism. We endeavour to continue learning about racial inequality, discrimination and abuse in all its forms, evaluate ourselves, and take action to elevate marginalised voices and fight white supremacy. We encourage all our members to educate themselves and have attached resources below to assist in this continuous process.
Over the past few months, the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of George Floyd have fuelled a powerful and meaningful movement, championing the recognition of the significance of Black Americans in the face of overwhelming statistics of police brutality - the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. The impact of this movement has been staggering, sparking protests not only across America, but globally, including in France, the United Kingdom, Brazil and even here in Australia.
In the wake of such events, we have seen brands release statements and campaigns in support of this campaign, and its fundamental ideals of structural change and equality. Nike has released a video campaigning, inverting their quintessential slogan to “Don’t do it… Don’t turn your back on racism”.
McDonald's, in a shift from their usual light-hearted posts involving Happy Meals and memes, uploaded a short video in recognition of a number of Black Americans who have been victims of police brutality.
The deeply sensitive and racially charged nature of discussion surrounding this movement raises the question - should corporations be releasing such statements? Are these campaigns actually making a difference, or are they merely strategically disseminated in order to pander to their audience and capture more customers?
On one hand, this could be just another example of ‘performative activism’, where statements made on social media and through advertising campaigns are not championed in reality by brands. We have seen this in the corporatisation of Pride Month, also known as ‘rainbow capitalism’ or ‘rainbow washing’, where there is plentiful visible support for LGBTQ+ rights in the form of rainbow banners plastered in storefronts and on products, but little real contribution to actually helping the community. In fact, there are instances where the same corporation’s actions can be actively harmful - Adidas, which has released a slew of Pride-themed activewear, has also sponsored the 2018 FIFA Cup in Russia, a country with strong anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
In the same vein, many companies which have released statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, show little diversity in terms of their leadership. There is a distinct lack of people of colour on company boards at Spotify, Apple, L’Oreal, Adidas and Nike, among other brands. In 2019, 37% of Fortune 500 companies did not have a single Black director, while in 2020, only 20% of all current directors in S&P 500 companies are Black.
YouTube, which has pledged $1mil to social justice initiatives, has been heavily criticised for its weak moderation of racist material on its platform. Reformation, a sustainable fashion brand, has been called out by a former employee for racist treatment by the brand’s founder.
On the other hand, it can be reassuring and empowering to Black Americans and other minorities to see an influx of public support for a movement that champions their civil rights and seeks to dismantle police brutality and systematic oppression. The resources, money and influence at the disposal of corporations has enormous power to impact public opinion and contribute to foundations helping black and other minority communities.
In contrast to the often vague and generalised statements made by other brands, Ben & Jerry’s has broadcast a clear, powerful message that “we must dismantle white supremacy”, and has called for four specific steps to be taken by the Department of Justice, including passing legislation to study the effects of slavery and discrimination.
LEGO has pledged $4mil to specific “organizations dedicated to supporting black children and educating all children about racial equality”, in addition to taking down marketing for police-themed toys. Finally, Niantic (owner of Pokemon Go) has specified its plan for supporting Black employees within its own organisation, dedicating $2.5mil to projects by Black creators.
However, it is evident that brands still have much work to do to actually reflect the values of the BLM campaign. What’s certain is that whether or not these brands show public support for activist movements, the most crucial way they can contribute is by creating real change - by donating to foundations supporting affected communities, by promoting diversity and inclusivity in their leadership, advertising and workplaces, and by critically assessing how they can better champion the ideals of these movements in reality. Without real action, the statements we see on social media are just empty words.