July 27, 2020
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has caused introspection on the part of agencies and companies to identify inherent racism in their marketing. Watching the protests unfold on CNN, it's clear that there's a broad coalition, in addition to Blacks, who want to support the fight against racism. The protestors' demands will not be satisfied with mere tokenism, like this parody tweet by Christopher Franklin.
Boilerplate can be a liability. If a brand's statements conflict with a company's actions internally or in the marketplace, social media will sniff them out and hold them up for ridicule faster than it takes to drop an emoji.
Why BLM matters for marketers
Now that the movement has surfaced wealth, income, and healthcare disparities between whites and blacks, BLM has become a force in determining brand preference – or lack of it.
Only 34% of workers strongly agree with their company's stance, and actions regarding George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement
Prospects, customers, current and future employees will want to know about pay equality, opportunities for advancement, healthcare disparities between blacks, whites, Latinx, and other minorities will look to your websites and deeds to assess your company's commitment to diversity. They'll note the composition of their account team and their attitude toward blacks and other minorities. And being multicultural is just good business. According to a Pew poll, most Americans support all or parts of the BLM agenda.
The high cost of blunders
Experts believe that a lack of diversity in companies and agencies cultivates an environment where spectacular fails can happen. Major brands are no exception. Adidas fielded an all-white "Uncaged" shoe in its Black History Month collection. The backlash was immediate. Volkswagen's head-scratching Instagram spot by the German ad agency, Volga, is a case in point. The video shows a black man depicted as the puppet of a giant white hand. It also includes a German racial slur for blacks. Gucci's black-and-red-mouthed balaclava sweater drew comparisons to blackface, while Nivea launched a campaign themed "White Purity." Problems can emerge in product development, too. These companies have the resources to recall products, handle the fallout, apologize, and make new ads. These ads are examples of fails and gaffs, which expose brands to ridicule on social media, damage reputations, and worse. If all racism were that blatant, none of our clients or readers would greenlight it.
Words matter. Use them carefully
We need to hone-in on a much more nuanced level to weed out inherent racism in our copy. They're words that white people learned without the context of their original meaning. Master/slave. A phrase used by software engineers describes the relationship between software and hardware when one controls the other. Twitter, JP Morgan, and other companies are eliminating the language. Blacklist/whitelist. A blacklist refers to a directory of specific elements, such as email addresses or URLs, that are blocked. In other words, white is good and allowed, and black is not. Grandfathered in: This legal term is the "grandfather clause" adopted by seven Southern states during the Reconstruction Era. The phrase applies to some person or entity, which who is allowed to maintain an older or privileged standard when a law or rule is changed. lEstablished in 1867 exempted whites from literacy requirements originally imposed on blacks to prevent them from voting. In 1867, it was white people who were exempted from the literacy tests meant to prevent blacks from voting, which they didn't receive until the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1879.
The Fifteenth Amendment &ndash "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Sold down the river. This phrase, along with "thrown under the bus" is used to describe painful betrayals. The origin of the phrase harkens back to the 1800s, when Black slaves were literally sold down the river, and used for brutal labor that often ended in death.
Where do we go from here?
There are apps, consultants, and agencies that specialize in multicultural communications. Multiculturalism and equality are the new reality, but it's not something to which we can just pay lip service. We need to pay our dues by educating ourselves, and diversifying our workplaces with people of different races, ethnicities, and genders.
For additional reading, visit these links below
Understanding racism and inequality in America (Washington Post)
Common words and phrases that are racist
The black live matters releases policy agency (NBC News)