When Words and Actions Diverge, Brand Support for Black Lives Matter Can Backfire

July-August 2020
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Public support for the Black Lives Matter organization and movement has spiked amid mass protests against the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, and brands such as Nike and Ben & Jerry’s have made statements backing the cause and speaking out on racial equality.

But as Marketing Dive reported, companies that have run ads denouncing racism this summer have subsequently seen fresh scrutiny of their corporate practices, as activists and the media dig into where brands donate their money and how they treat their employees. In some cases, internal corporate behavior has been revealed to contradict external messages to consumers.

Starbucks, typically associated with progressive politics, experienced intense backlash in mid-June after BuzzFeed News reported that the coffee chain would ban employees from wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts and accessories.

Reportedly intended to prevent incidents of violence, Starbucks’ move was widely perceived as hypocritical in view of the company’s social media statements supporting the cause. After #BoycottStarbucks went viral, the brand quickly reversed its decision and introduced its own Black Lives Matter apparel.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers are treating causes like Black Lives Matter as an imperative, Marketing Dive reported. “Not just Black people, but also allies are looking and watching,” said Courtney McKenzie Newell, founder and CEO of Crowned Marketing & Communications in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Many companies now speaking out may not have done so earlier in the spring. As Marketing Dive points out, the dual expectations — responding to the social justice movement while also offering systematic changes — are considerably high.

“It’s dizzying, and it’s a lot to puzzle through with no time to do it in,” said Kendra Clarke, vice president of data science and product development for Sparks & Honey, a technology-led cultural consultancy in New York. “Moments like this, you have to hope that your brand values help ground you, because there is inevitably a lot of decision making using the best information you have available to you.”

photo credit: oli scarff/afp

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