The past several weeks has been one of the most difficult in American history. At the hands of white police officers, an unarmed black man, George Floyd, joined a growing list of black men and women killed by those sworn to protect and serve our communities. Protests erupted across all 50 states and in over 18 countries, calling for an end to systemic racism and justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, many others who have prematurely lost their lives due to racial injustice. In response, many companies and brands have expressed solidarity for the #BlackLivesMatter movement across social media.
Companies like Nike and Ben & Jerry’s, who have made significant investments in addressing social justice issues, including racism. The statements they released felt genuine and aligned with their core values. Now, after weeks of protests, more brands are jumping on the bandwagon, releasing statements in support of #BlackLivesMatter though they have rarely, if ever, supported social causes. Especially those related to race issues.
While I believe all companies should support social issues about racial equality for ethical and financial reasons, there is a wrong and right way to begin your journey into the complexities of cause marketing. Consider the following:
In 2015, Starbucks launched the “Race Together” campaign, a failed attempt to start a national conversation about race relations in America. While the campaign received swift and brutal blowback, given the current racial climate in the U.S., perhaps Starbucks was on to something. We do need to have a conversation about race. But for brands, how you show up in that conversation must be carefully considered and researched before launch. Starbucks didn’t think about how their campaign would be perceived by marginalized audiences who didn’t even have a Starbucks in their neighborhoods.
Brands must be aware of the critical role they play in the everyday experiences of consumers, not just when something unthinkable happens. Taking a stance on social causes is a long-term pledge, not a short-lived hashtag.