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Black Lives Matter: How the movement is affecting brands

2020 will certainly be a year to remember for huge shifts in the global conversation, stock markets, and the regular everyday lives of everyone we know. COVID-19 forced huge change for pretty much everyone on the planet. The death of George Floyd then captured the world’s attention at a time when almost nothing else could get through the news, social media or otherwise.

The Black Lives Matter movement seemed to mobilise overnight in the US and then all over the world, largely thanks to media and social media coverage, protests, and the subsequent activities that rose up across the globe.

It’s been humbling to watch it play out and it’s certainly making some BIG changes. We won’t speak about the political side on this blog, or the BLM organisation, but we will look at the impact the BLM movement has had on brands because there are some very important lessons for brands here.



Brands in conversation…

One area that really struck us was seeing the brands who shied away from the conversation altogether, and the brands who stood up and gave their support for the movement.

Race is an incredibly difficult and emotive subject to approach as a brand and we understand why brands like Facebook took longer than others to show their solidarity – because they wanted to get it right.

Facebook, who eventually changed their logo from blue to black, did then release a statement and offer support to the BLM movement. Some said that they should really have been on top of what was a viral social media conversation much sooner.

Twitter also pledged $3M to help BLM and YouTube update their policies and made a statement about the content they would allow on their platform.

Nike on the other hand got it right straight away. They were ahead of the conversation, too. Nike were at the centre of controversy with Colin Kaepernick back in September 2019 when he ‘took the knee’ during the national anthem before a big game. Nike backed him in a social media campaign some weeks after which caused opposing sides to burn their Nike apparel in protest.

Right after the George Floyd incident hit the news Nike nailed it again by changing their familiar slogan from ‘Just Do It’, to ‘Don’t Do It’.

Getting involved in a conversation like this is a tricky matter though, and with emotions running high, many opted to simply stay quiet. Do you think that if you get it right, you get it right? And if you don’t you risk a lot more than staying quiet?

Some brands chose to release information about how they intend to ‘do better’ with regards racism and employment, and many brands donated money to anti-racism organisations and pledged to support more black-led businesses.

Some brands shared their intention to move forward with a better understanding of how they can take action against racism in future.

Will that happen?

We guess we’ll have to see…



Re-evaluating the message

So much of what makes a brand a brand is what it stands for and the story behind its creation. We’re always talking about the core message, the beliefs, and backstory to a brand. So, it’s no surprise to us that some global brands are now in serious re-branding conversations as their, once trusted reputations, are now being questioned as the racism light is shone directly on them.

So much of what the BLM conversation is about lies in systemic racism, and much of the conversation is pointed to the ‘normalisation’ of racism and other areas like slave trade and elitism being celebrated in areas of education, arts, and brands.

Statues fell in the US and then in the UK because of this and now it looks like big brands will fall too unless they make some drastic changes. At the centre of the media frenzy right now are US brands Aunt Jemima and family favourite Uncle Ben’s, now owned by Mars.

Both brands feature a black person on their brand and all packaging. A black person as the face of the brand? This does seem like a good thing, right?

But, just like the story behind the slave trader statues, ‘Uncle’ was actually racist reference to slaves and one of the reasons that ‘Uncle Ben’ is no longer dressed as a waiter on the packaging is that this needed to be bought up to date, almost concealing the origin of the brand name.

Both brands need to move on and although they don’t really have a choice, the reasons behind that do make sense. You see, the thought behind the brand’s creation and the actions that created fame for the historic statues is a big issue for BLM.

Normalising it and allowing historic systemic racism to exist in our 21st century world makes no sense. It might not change the past, but it will shape the future. Why should we continue to tell the story and relive the racism, especially when so many were simply unaware where the brand came from in the first place?

We have plenty of black chefs and plenty of black people who’ve made a real impact on the world. Having them represent brands just as Colin Kaepernick did for Nike is where we need to head now. We should be celebrating their greatness as people, not celebrating people who oppressed them. That said, Nike’s leadership team has (or have?) been called out for being comprised of, yes, you guessed it, white people – mainly men.



Changing the channel of conversation

It’s certainly impressive what BLM have managed to do in a short space of time, especially during a pandemic. With social media graphics offered as overlays to social media profile photos and 650K and rising fans on their Facebook page, the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t over yet. It’s not just brands of clothing and social media platforms they’re impacting.

One on the main influencers for most of our lives has been the TV. This has now moved on from four channels and black and white, of course. Sites like Amazon Prime and Netflix have really taken hold of the attention of the masses.

So, what did Netflix do? They created a Black Lives Matter channel to offer content that helps you to, “Learn more about racial injustice and the Black experience in America with this collection of films, series and documentaries”.

With brands like Colgate-Palmolive now also in the frame due to their Darlie toothpaste (which is promoted as ‘Black Man toothpaste in the US’), this will continue to develop through the rest of 2020 and beyond, we’re sure. Some more reference:  Last week, personal care goods giant Colgate-Palmolive announced a review of its toothpaste brand Darlie, which is sold and marketed as “Black Man toothpaste” in China, Singapore, the Philippines, and several other Asian markets.



A lesson for all brands…

Our final thought on all this (for brands anyway) is this.

Stay current. It’s really easy to fall behind the times and you can quickly fall out of favour. There are lots of rumours flying around about the origin of the creation of brands and global corporations right now and if you’re linked to slavery or systemic racism then it’s highly unlikely you’ll miss your day in the headlines.

Work out a strategy of being honest and ethical and act on it as well as talking about it!

But away from all the history of this incredibly complex and emotive topic are brands who simply need to understand that the values, beliefs and stories behind them matter, and if those values don’t resonate with their audience anymore, then they as a brand won’t matter anymore.

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