Brand activism must translate into brand action

Activists and the public alike will be waiting for real action to take place, sooner rather than later.

The high profile of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement following the killing of George Floyd in May has caused many brands to reassess how they respond to anti-racism and the steps they need to take.

Many have found it a difficult area to navigate. The marketing sector as a whole is notoriously lacking in diversity. The 2020 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey found that 88% of respondents identified as white, 4% as mixed race, 5% as Asian and 2% as Black. Several organisations have been called out for promoting diversity issues in the light of BLM, yet have failed to address the fundamental lack of diversity in their own business – the BBC reports that only four of America’s top 500 companies had a Black CEO.

Threatened by a charge of hypocrisy, there is a temptation to stay silent but, such is the strength of feeling that, as tweeted by Netflix “to be silent is to be complicit”.

Some companies appear to be striking the right note. Yorkshire Tea, already having had a taste of a Twitterstorm when the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was pictured with a bumper bag of the product. Twitter commenters inferred his endorsement from the Tweet, and likewise the brand’s support of Conservative party policies.

The company navigated this challenge, only to be faced with a Tweeter exclaiming “I’m dead chuffed that Yorkshire Tea has not supported BLM”. The company responded rapidly with the claim “We’re taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism.” Interestingly, another poster suggested this was enough to make them switch brands, only for the competing brand, PG Tips to respond saying “If you are boycotting teas that stand against racism, you’re going to have to find two new tea brands now.” This resulted in the hashtag #solidaritea.

Brands that have managed their responses to the Black Lives Matter movement with authenticity, openness and honesty have fared best in a tumultuous communications environment. But these statements are only placeholders. Activists and the public alike will be waiting for real action to take place, sooner rather than later.