The advertising industry went green for climate change, blue for Sudan and rainbow for Pride; and over the last few weeks we’ve gone black for #blacklivesmatter. Unless brands stop and take real action, this will just be another colour added to the belt of slacktivism.
Sparked by the violent murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, protests have erupted in the US and across the world. Many brands have taken to social platforms to express solidarity with the Black community – from Apple, Nike, PrettyLittleThing, Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s speaking out about their support for the BLM movement, to L’Oreal, Chanel and Boohoo posting black boxes on Instagram for #BlackOutTuesday.
As an industry, we like to reward ourselves for being visible in helping to address society’s ills, yet we forget that we’re often part of the problem. While a brand’s advertising is not reflective of its stance on racism, or indeed any other political outlook, it is signified by its organisational values, the people who have been hired and the diverse leadership that represents it. This industry still lacks diversity at its core, and continues to perpetuate racial stereotypes in its creative output.
As a strategist and person of mixed heritage working in the advertising industry, I find these brand statements on racism, pictured above, to be generic and a cynical attempt to not be left behind. Collective silence may not be an option right now, but the black box, the Twitter post pledging solidarity, is the bare minimum from brands who benefit from Black culture. Further action is needed. Brands should take inspiration from Glossier, who not only donated $500K to organisations combating racial injustice, but in an effort to drive action in the beauty industry, also allocated an additional $500K for grants to be given to Black-owned beauty businesses. The beauty brand evidently understands that optical allyship only serves on a superficial level.
Practicing allyship is a lifelong journey, not a 30-second post. Brands may set the tone and agenda for action yet some have desperately failed to make meaningful contributions. Take Chanel, who posted three black boxes instead of one for #BlackOutTuesday, so as not to ruin their Instagram feed’s three-post aesthetic. Their insincerity is unacceptable.
L’Oréal’s initial pledge of solidarity came under fire from Munroe Bergdorf, a transgender model and activist who was dropped from a L’Oréal campaign in 2017 after speaking out against racism.
Following this public denouncement, Bergdof and L’Oréal have “had an open and constructive conversation” and announced that, going forward, Bergdof will be working with the company as a consultant on its UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board. L’Oréal has been held accountable for pledging solidarity without action and has reconciled this by financially supporting gender-varient and transgender youth charities, and Black Pride in the UK. As Bergdof stated: this period is about “accountability and progress”, not “cancellation and grudges”. This change in direction shows how antiracism actions are beneficial not just for people of colour but for the brand and its entire community.
Over the years, brands have pledged their support for different social causes, by posting outrage online, public shows of solidarity and support with changes of colour. Brands always miss what is actually vital – real change and action.
Brands, it is time to use your collective voice and position of privilege as a power tool to accelerate the change needed; internally and externally. Avoid the generic boilerplate statements which lack depth. Be consistent with your outage. And go beyond words of support. Your black square is too passive in the face of such brutality. For those who have changed to black for the BLM movement, how will you consistently uphold your solidarity? How will you ensure the products you sell are inclusive for all? How will you put out authentic and diverse content?
Actions for consideration:
1. Duty of care: In a sensitive manner, check in with your POC employees. What is happening right now is distressing and exhausting to any POC. Check they’re okay.
2. Look at your internal structure and employment of POC: Racial diversity in the workplace – from recruiting to hiring to promoting POC continues to move at an unimpressive pace. Create and maintain inclusive POC cultures, mentor black talent and value diversity within leadership. I.e Minimum 15% BAME leadership to reflect 15% of the UK population.
3. Make diversity and inclusivity agendas the ‘norm’, not just a ‘trend’ (see, The Equality Act, 2010): Employ anti-racial bias training for all employees, set up a quarterly review process to allow all employees to provide feedback on the progress or lack of it.
4. Education and collaboration is key: It is not POC’s responsibility to address the imbalance within their company. This is about collaboration and a responsibility for all to share links, resources and research to ensure that all staff understand racial bias.
5. Go above and beyond: While financial support is desirable, commit to fighting racial inequality and look to empower POC within your organisation. Create opportunity and inclusivity, and affect financial equality.
The type of brand I want to be a part of and invest in, is one which stands by its values and reflects them in every action it takes.
To make a genuine difference, we need trailblazers; to disrupt the status quo, focus on a problem and fix it. Can your brand undo the racial bias and prejudice further perpetuated by artificial intelligence? If you are a hair brand, do you have lines of hair colour and hair care for afro hair?
Can 10% of your marketing budget go to helping underserved communities? Can you insist on changes in how you and your agency brief, cast and direct diverse talent within your creative content? Can you start quarterly inclusivity surveys?
Don’t let your black square be empty of action. Fill it with intention and make a change today.
Sofia Bodger, strategist, AnalogFolk