Brands taking a stance on social issues

We’ve all seen it before; a major brand makes a statement on an issue that’s “trending,” and a wave of responses follow. Take, for example, Amazon’s Twitter post in response to the George Floyd tragedy last summer – the top two responses are calling for Amazon to do better, while the third takes a complete 180° and posts a “gotcha” chart that’s supposed to “prove” why white violence against black people isn’t worth the massive protest response that BLM has undertaken. When one of the most profitable brands of the last decade garners responses like this, what are the benefits of publicly addressing these issues?

Before we get into that, let’s look at a couple of instances of brand publicity of the event that the public took with a little more grace:

  • Nike’s “Don’t Do It” campaign – The shoe company changed their tagline from “Just Do It” to “For Once, Just Don’t Do It,” in reference to pretending that America does not have a race problem. It was simple and was even shared by rival companies like Adidas.
  • Netflix’s “To be silent is to be complicit” post – The online streaming service published this Twitter post reiterating that Black Lives Matter and that they have a duty to their Black employees and talent to speak up. It drew the ire of the All Lives Matter crowd but was otherwise well received.
  • Peloton “How many lives are we comfortable with losing?” post – The workout equipment manufacturer posted a thoughtful and succinct statement on Instagram highlighting how tired the black community is of being on the receiving end of so many tragedies, accompanied by a generous donation to the NAACP legal defense fund.

So, what is different between the above instances versus others that many perceive as “virtue signaling?” Well, the biggest consideration when drawing attention to an issue is whether the company is using it as a secondary method of drawing attention to itself. The other major consideration is whether the company is being demonstrably hypocritical in their method of addressing the issue.

Many people feel that Amazon has failed on both counts; the first because they make no commitments in their post other than attaching their name to the trending controversy, and the second because Amazon makes buckets of money and yet donates a comparable pittance to social issues like BLM and the NAACP.

Yet at the same time, this awareness that this brings can also be a positive. Even if the brand is being completely hypocritical, it still normalizes the discussion and acceptance of issues like human rights, racism, gender norms, and sexuality.

So, for any brands that are going to speak to social issues, our general recommendations are these:

  • Do not over-promise: If you cannot deliver on commitments, stick to raising awareness and lifting others’ voices.
  • Be genuine: If you are going to make promises, you would better not be part of the problem.
  • Be the solution: You are the ones that have the money to fund real change. Use it!

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