For any businesses to successfully introduce itself to the market, it has to develop a well-thought-out brand strategy, which delineates how the brand will present itself to the market both visually and narratively. From time immemorial, branding has been about how the business wants to be perceived, and it has been about generating leads and establishing a relationship with consumers so that they can eventually become loyal advocates of that brand. With activism at the centre of the current zeitgeist, brands need to take on the role of being active corporate citizens and contribute towards the fight for a just world.
As people become more aware of the significance and necessity of unequivocally speaking out against injustice, more brands are realising that they have a responsibility to participate in relevant conversations that concern a majority of their consumers. Not only must you call out iniquity, but you also have to re-evaluate how you conduct business; you have to establish the necessary policies and be mindful of how you treat employees, especially those who belong to a marginalised group. You also have to make sure that your business operations do not harm the environment.
If you are not working towards being a socially conscious brand, you risk losing the support of current and potential customers. No brand is above reproach; you could be a tweet away from tarnishing your credibility. As articulated in an article on Entrepreneur South Africa, taking a stand on social issues and lending your brand’s voice to the cause for justice “will earn you a place in popular culture, improve your reputation and increase your market share. Getting it wrong could spark public outrage, claims of insincerity and the possibility of a boycott. The stakes have never been higher, and success depends on converting brand purpose into action.”
Gone are the days of solely relying on catchy pay-off lines and exciting campaigns to attract consumers’ attention. Consumers are not passive, monied puppets who are easily hypnotised by brand promises and value propositions; they want to see your value proposition and brand purpose in action, especially as it pertains to how your brand engages with and responds to recurring matters such as racism.
In light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement—which was established in 2013 after the murderer of Trayvon Martin was acquitted—and the global cry for Black lives to be given the honour and dignity due to them, many brands have stretched out their hands to give the necessary support. Netflix, for instance, launched a Black Lives Matter Collection for their U.S subscribers; they have curated “45 titles about racial injustice and the experience of Black Americans.” Even here in Africa, the network has committed itself to showcasing the work and creativity of African storytellers. Consider how the South African dramas Queen Sono and Blood and Water have been well received globally. Netflix has done well in giving our stories a platform and supporting Black creators.
Another brand that has engaged actively with the #BlackLivesMatter Movement is Livity. Inspired by bestselling author and speaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones, the youth marketing agency launched the #BrandShareTheMic initiative, which was aimed at galvanising UK brands into supporting Black creatives, creating opportunities for them and making sure that they are represented in the mainstream. “ Brands came together because they understood that their platforms hold power – and with it, the ability to affect real change,” said Rani Patel Williams, business director at Livity. The NBA also supported the movement by having the Black Lives Matter logo painted on their courts.
While there have been some brands who have joined in the global outrage against the devaluing of Blacks lives in various spheres of society, some brands have chosen to be silent. According to The Marketing Society, some brands have chosen not to say anything because they fear “alienating” their customers. There is concern that they will lose customers who perhaps hold more conservative views. If brands are to grow and be successful, they need to be on the pulse of what is changing in society. In the same manner that a brand will be “dragged” on Twitter for having hints of racism whether it be in their campaigns or how they treat their staff, a brand’s name will be sullied if they don’t stand in solidarity with those who are wronged because, in many consumers’ views, silence is complicity. At this critical juncture where people are becoming more conscientised, “silence says, ‘we don’t care’. Silence says, ‘we have all of these resources, all if this money, all of this influence, and we choose not to help’. Silence places you on the other side.”
In light of the global socio-political landscape, your products or services alone are not enough to attract and maintain the attention and loyalty of the consumer. Consumers want brands that are conscious and are taking a stance on societal issues. As a brand, are you keeping abreast of what’s going on in society and responding accordingly? Your brand promises need to transcend marketing strategies to go straight to the heart of the consumer. We hope that brands can move beyond campaigns and play their part in building an equitable society.
Social media has become the people’s court; there, a touch is a move and you could be next on trial. As a brand trying to grow its reach and customer base, it would be remiss of you to remain silent and watch the world burn; not only does it paint you in a bad light but it has the potential of hurting your bottom line. So, going forward, and as a critical part of your evolution, activism has to be a part of your brand strategy.
Bakhtiari, K. (2019). Brand Activism: Turning Your Purpose Into Action. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/328699
Colins, B. (n.d). Black Lives Matter: Why Are So Many Brands Silent? Retrieved from https://www.marketingsociety.com/blog-post/black-lives-matter-why-are-so-many-brands-silent
Spangler, T. (2020). Netflix Launches ‘Black Lives Matter’ Collection of Movies, TV Shows and Documentaries. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2020/digital/news/netflix-black-lives-matter-collection-1234630160/
Williams, R. (n.d.) Talk Is Cheap: Brands Need To Step Up And Take Action Against Racism. Retrieved from https://www.marketingsociety.com/blog-post/talk-cheap