Over the past several weeks, brands have been forced to look closely at their identities and determine if and how they will participate in the fast-rising social justice movement triggered by a series of deaths of black men at the hands of police officers. Companies and their leaders have had to determine how they want to align with a call to end racial discrimination and whether they are doing enough to create and advance opportunities for disadvantaged minorities.
Many brands have issued strong statements condemning targeted violence against Blacks. Some have doubled down on their company policies for diversity and inclusion. Others have made philanthropic contributions or advocated for the movement through education, political action, and meaningful advertising, some incorporating #BlackLivesMatter in their communications.
Many valiant efforts, but where do we go from here?
Brands Promoting Racial Justice
A number of powerful brands have developed strategies to leverage their brand stories and advertising to advocate for racial justice and equality. Some have shined a light on racial injustice through powerful videos that elicit a strong emotional response. Ads from Nike and Procter and Gamble, for example, target the consciousness of white audiences, challenging preconceived stereotypes towards the Black community, checking white privilege, and calling for more shared responsibility. Much to their credit, the ads build on ongoing campaigns for these brands that have been supporting the cause long before the most recent events.
Nike Releases "For Once, Don't Do It",
featuring powerful language imploring us to stop sitting back or isolating ourselves from the cause. The ad is followed by a commitment to a $40 million contribution to social justice organizations. Nike has a history of supporting black lives, releasing the controversial "Dream Crazy" campaign in 2019 featuring Colin Kaepernick.
P&G's Ad "The Choice
airs on Oprah Winfrey's Town Hall, featuring powerful language overlaid on black and white skin, most notably "being white in America is not needing to state your life matters." It ends with a call to action for white people to channel their power into combatting racism. Again, this ad follows P&G's ad history against racism, including "The Talk" (2017) and "The Look" (2019), which both tackle racial stereotypes in America head-on.
Supporting Black Businesses, Artists, & Entrepreneurs
Some brands have demonstrated their commitment to strengthen economic empowerment in the black community
by supporting black-owned businesses with strategic investments or with promotional strategies to help them gain footing and exposure. As Mark Ritson from
writes, "If you care about black lives, you don't get inspired by an Instagram post. You get inspired by black faces in the boardroom."
While words and dollars matter, a company's values are reflected in its culture and practices. To truly communicate the message that "Black lives matter" means walking the walk and, for many, requires reforming company culture, diversifying hiring and reevaluating governance and business practices to combat racism in the workplace day to day. In fact, many brands have been accused of hypocrisy by their own employees for releasing anti-racism statements for the public while ignoring internal institutional racism, and for a lack of initiative to truly diversify their workforce and combat racial bias.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resignedand requested that the company appoint a Black successor, providing a direct platform for Black leadership. In addition, Ohanian pledged to invest his future gains of the company stock in advancing the Black community.
strongly criticized Mark Zuckerberg's passivity in light of President Trump's use of violent tropes, some resigning from disappointment. In response, Zuckerberg pledged $10 million to anti-racism groups.
Another way brands can support the movement for racial justice is to involve their customers. Incorporating donations through purchases or using a product as a means to encourage support can make activism and social justice part of a consumer's everyday life.
Consumer initiatives could also serve as teachable moments with cultural or tolerance-teaching tools (See Promoting Education & Black Voices.
Gaming Company EA launched a Your Case
program to double match any donation from its customers. In addition, EA pledged $1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative & to the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.
Ignorance has greatly contributed to widespread institutional racism. Knowledge of Black history is crucial to understanding the social injustices that still plague our society, yet it is often neglected in our textbooks and attracts smaller audiences when portrayed in films. As a public service,
prominent media properties have proactively shared relevant content on racial justice and racism to provide some much needed education for children and adults.
Warner Bros. released "Just Mercy" for free streaming
during the month of June. The film tells the story of a Black lawyer in Alabama, played by Michael B. Jordan, fighting against racism embedded in the legal system in his defense of a wrongfully convicted Black man.
During the recent weeks, the "Black lives matter" movement has brought the public's attention to police accountability, and some cities have begun reallocating a portion of law enforcement budgets to youth education and development. This shift aims to reduce racial inequalities and create opportunities in education and employment.
Companies and brands do not operate in a vacuum. They are inextricably linked to the communities and society within which they operate. These past weeks - and the exemplary leadership of some of the businesses highlighted in this issue of
- remind us all of this important truth.
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications.
Special thanks to Lucia Santos, our intern from Georgetown University, for her contribution to this issue.