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Brands Need To Be Sincere And Thoughtful In Their Responses To BLM Protests

June 24, 2020 Sarah Cavill

The ongoing Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the country over the last month have led to a number of responses from brands, some more effective than others. Many people agree that this moment is different and requires a more thorough understanding of the issues and a studied and sincere approach. A simple tweet of solidarity is likely to be seen as insufficient. A recent Washington Post/Schar study found 74% of Americans support the protests, but there are mixed feelings about how brands should effectively engage. 

How Do Consumers Feel About Support For Protests?

On May 31, Morning Consult conducted a survey of 1,990 adults asking them how brands should respond to the BLM protests. It’s evident from the survey results that consumers expect action, but it isn’t always cut and dry what kind of action, and it is also divided along generational and racial audience segments. 21% of all U.S. adults surveyed think brands should offer statements of support for protesters and police, but brands supporting protesters generally, and on social media, had less than favorable views from everyone surveyed, except Black respondents. 

However, there was general agreement on several issues, with 20% of all U.S. adults surveyed believing that brands should donate to social justice causes and 28% stating that brands should initiate racial sensitivity training. Brands offering no response were viewed less favorably across all surveyed. Support for small businesses, additional security and donations for community clean up were favorably viewed, although the survey was conducted at a time when those issues were likely more top of mind for the surveyed group.

Morning Consult found stark divisions along generational lines, noting, “Almost three-quarters (73%) of Generation Z and Millennials said they view brands that support protesters on social media more favorably, while 39% of Generation X and Baby Boomers said the same.”

Brands Need To Take Action

In the past, many brands have shied away from making statements about controversial issues (one of the few exceptions is Nike who built an ad campaign around Colin Kaepernick). This time is different. According to Marketing Land, throughout the BLM protests, many high profile brands have voiced support, noting, “McDonald’s, Target, Netflix, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, TikTok, Facebook and scores of others have raced to embrace BLM and the protests, some of which resulted in looting and violent clashes with police. That’s a radical departure from years and political issues past.”

Brands Must Be Sincere And Authentic

Shutterstock_1746891338 Vancouver BC, Canada, May 31 2020: Portrait of two young women of dark skin colour with a face mask holding cardboard banners "black lives matter"

There has been growing pressure from Millennials and younger generations for brands to take stands on social issues, even before the protests began. It’s likely some brands are seeing this historical time as a “put up or shut up” moment when consumers are turning to them for action and leadership. This expectation of engagement includes looking to brands to do more than just tweet or release statements.

Authenticity and action should be top priorities for brands that choose to wade into any social issue, especially now when emotions are high. It’s also clear from the Morning Consult survey that the way brands show their support could impact their favorability with certain groups. This is where brands should be listening, understanding their customers and responding in ways that feel organic and sincere to their brand. A botched response or one that appears performative and doesn’t resonate with audiences may do more harm than good in the long run — for the cause and the brand.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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