Blog Posts
How #BLM and Racial Inequality Has Influenced Brand Marketing
peaceful protestors gathered for peaceful protestors gathered for

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 such as the late John Lewis and Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian dedicated their lives and leadership to these causes; Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just some of the best-known victims of our country’s devastating reality. As a marketing and PR agency in D.C., we have seen the front lines of protests in the name of Black Lives Matter, and we have a duty to speak out and commit to being the change we want to see, both at our office and within our industry. About 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 affected brands; specifically, how and why different brands have attempted to speak out regarding current events. 

Brands aren’t just corporate entities; they have distinct identities. Brands cannot simply be transactional if they want to gain and maintain consumer relationships. Consumers want to align themselves with brands that embody their own values. Speaking out is especially important on topics such as systemic racism because it affects not only a consumer base but also the internal culture and practices of a company itself. Brands have a significant role in addressing these issues, and those efforts must be genuine to positively engage consumers.

There have been some classic examples of companies attempting and failing to make an effective statement. Maybe the most notable is Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial. Instead of displaying accountability and a genuine commitment to change in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2017, this commercial 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 no one can prescrive a single cookie-cutter template for a genuine commitment to anti-racist leadership and the correction of past mistakes, any brand statement on equity, diversity and inclusion should generally include 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 doesn’t exploit the situation but diverts attention to issues as opposed to 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. 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 protests, the Ben & Jerry’s executive board worked with Color of Change and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 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.  Ben & Jerry’s use of their social platforms shows what effective corporate activism and policy reform could look like, without 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.”

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. Glossier, for example, not only participated in the challenge but began a grant initiative for Black-owned beauty businesses. 

Reddit 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 displayed 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. Corporate activism is not a marketing tool; it’s a part of the social responsibility organizations need to embrace to enact positive change and stand 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. 

Proof has begun an Anti-Racist Committee dedicated to leading strategic and institutional efforts to achieve workplace parity for all employees and increase 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.