As Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests rock American cities right now, much of it being broadcast on social media. But as you scroll through your social media feed you might notice something in your timeline: major brands offering support for this social and political movement.
Apple, Ben and Jerry’s, Netflix, Nike, Atlassian, Richard Branson – all have had something to say in support of the BLM movement, with many not only showing support but going the extra mile.
Ben and Jerry’s has called for an end to white supremacy, while LEGO is donating $4 million to organisations supporting black children and have even pulled advertising of LEGO products with a police theme.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) June 2, 2020
A decade ago, the idea that a corporation might stake out a political or social position publicly was viewed as anathema, a foolish move that would see you potentially halve your market and damage your brand. Politics was not terrain business wanted to wade into.
So what’s happened in the interim?
Firstly, the world has become much more polarised, notably during the Presidency of Donald Trump, making it harder for brands to remain silent, especially when groups like Nike have stepped forward and raised the standard, notably around the Colin Kapaernick take a knee campaign.
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Secondly, it’s part of a tradition of corporate engagement with social issues that has been with us a long time and often occurs behind the scenes through philanthropic work. But in an age of rampant digital and social media where draconian ideas are being aired, the battle of ideas and for change is happening much more publicly.
The culture of an organisation is determined by the values of its leadership and clearly some organisations are determined to let their values shape their brand and find a consumer, rather than allowing the product or the market to do that for them.
Finally, for some brands it’s about knowing your demographic. If your brand is well known and your market is urban, urbane, and high end, supporting BLM is not only not a risk, it might be a boon for your brand. A calculated risk that there are more clients, or a better type of client to be won than lost.
A tale of two brands: why congruence matters
In the case of Fox coming out in support of BLM, it’s appeared to many as a cynical exercise, especially considering the Fox news network has been and remains such a trenchant supporter of Donald Trump who is calling on the military to crush the movement.
You can’t have it both ways as a brand: projecting as a benign and caring entertainment company in one statement, while your news service continues around the clock to run down the movement.
— Nike (@Nike) May 29, 2020
Nike is the obvious counterpoint here as a brand. Nike has developed an image since the 1980s, since signing up Michael Jordan, as an urban-based company with a multi-racial appeal.
But they had to overcome the dissonance of this urban cool veneer while exploiting child and low wage labour in developing nations to make their expensive sneakers. Like Fox, they had an incongruent brand, underlying issues they had to address in their own operation.
A value-based society: brand audit
The pervasiveness of social and digital media means the world is going to do an audit of your brand and its values. Whatever was able to be hidden and kept separate before will know be brought into the open for examination.
The last thing you want is for your organisation or brand to be castigated publicly on social media. It’s much better that you audit your organisation and culture and look for any potential risks that could turn into crises. Then take action to remedy any potential problems.
The risks are too high not to act. With an engaged citizenry interested in ethical buying and activists able to put pressure upstream on suppliers or downstream on consumers through campaigns, it’s more important than ever to get your house in order.