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The importance of brand response during BLM

Whether it was in the first hour, the first day or the first week – or we’re still waiting for a whisper – brand response to the Black Lives Matter movement has been telling. From the loudest voices to the weakest whispers, the ‘does it really need to be said’ to the impressively empowering call for change, we look at how a selection of brands responded – and how their audience responded for them.

Ben & Jerry’s

When Ben & Jerry’s opened their first social enterprise store, they paid their staff a fair wage, cared about where they sourced their ingredients and considered the impact they had on the environment. It was the late 70s, and they were pioneers in the ice-cream industry. When the company was bought out by Unilever in the 2000s due to a corporate law technicality, the company retained as much of its integrity – and board seats (80%) – as possible, and while they have come under fire for the transparency of their ‘Happy Cows’ strapline, at the end of the day they are a dairy brand who we are pleased as punch have brought out a range of vegan ice creams.

“It all comes down to a simple idea that we believe in whole-heartedly: if you care about something, you have to be willing to risk it all—your reputation, your values, your business—for the greater good.”

It’s well-documented that founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have a passion for politics, and in 2016 they were arrested at a peaceful protest for Democracy Awakening at the US Capitol Building. Over the years they’ve regularly encouraged their fans to join them in campaigning both on and offline – and the Black Lives Matter movement has been no different.

The accompanying blog to this Instagram post is titled ‘Silence is NOT an option‘, which perfectly summarises how a lot of people feel about how many brands have approached the BLM movement. Silence has been interpreted as discomfort, disassociation – or worse, sitting on the side of the side of racism. Ben & Jerry’s have once again shown that not only have they taken an active stance in supporting the anti-racism anthem, they’re shouting it from the top of their ice-cream tower. They’re calling out Trump, demanding legislation changes, and asking all of white America to join them in acknowledging white privilege and committing to a future that is peaceful, united and just. When a brand stands proudly by its morals, it only leaves behind rotten fruit.

Yorkshire Tea

Another brand who have had a rollercoaster of a year, after Conservative Chancellor Rishi Sunak posed next to the biggest bag of tea bags we’ve ever seen. Yorkshire Tea responded perfectly after they received this rather baffling tweet from far-right vlogger Laura Towler, announcing her jubilation that her favourite tea company didn’t support BLM. Whilst many brands jumped on the trend immediately, some have taken the time to review and plan their approach carefully – and for anyone who has worked for a big brand, they know how long it can take to get any kind of campaign approved. Some have created artwork, put together useful literature, collated their employee numbers – or chosen not to share them, because this represents their staff as simply a number rather than a person who contributes so much value. They haven’t simply shared a black square or re-shared another Instagram post with a few lines and moved on with their day. There are different ways to support the BLM movement, and it doesn’t always have to be knee-jerk. Although, we are still waiting for Yorkshire Tea to say, well, anything about Black Lives Matter…

p.s. whoever started the hashtag #Solidaritea is a GENIUS.

L’Oréal Paris

As brands started waking up to their expectations of involvement, L’Oréal Paris shared this Instagram post. It was of no comfort to Munroe Bergdorf, who had been dropped from contract by the cosmetics brand in 2017 after she, ironically, spoke out about racism and white supremacy. Bergdorf, who had been taking part in L’Oréal’s influencer-led #YoursTruly campaign, promoting the expansion of their foundation colour palette, had shared a Facebook post asking white people to look at their privilege and heritage: “most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism.” L’Oréal responded by dropping her from the line-up of 23 creators without notice, stating:

We believe that the recent comments [made] by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with those [campaign] values, and as such we have taken the decision to end the partnership with her.” – L’Oréal Paris, 2017

So you can understand why Bergdorf was angry, to say the least, when L’Oréal Paris shared their Instagram post. She responded with a post of her own, accusing them of hypocrisy and gaslighting, and unearthed the truth of the situation they had put her in three years ago. Her loyal following had her back, taking to the comments section of L’Oréal Paris’ post to demand answers. Their response? Silence. Before returning five days later with some shocking news. News that we can all commend them for, and whilst they may still have their enemies, it’s a change of heart we can all learn from – to make a mistake, learn from it, and make better choices in the future.

Bergdorf now has an advisory role on the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board, and L’Oréal Paris has donated €25,000 to Mermaids and €25,000 UK Black Pride. It’s testament to the impact that speaking out can have – and how brands can admit they’re wrong and make a significant difference (even if it is because they’re backed into a corner).

Anthropologie

What’s even more interesting is seeing the stories that emerge in the comments sections as people tell the honest truth of their experiences. Take Anthropologie, for example. Known for their love of emulating artisan, small batch design at a not-so-small price point, Anthropologie create womenswear, furniture and accessories for the “creative, worldly woman”.

As the public have now come to learn, their staff have been trained for more than a decade to alert each other via their headphones when “Nick” or “Nicky” enter the store. These are the labels management have given to Black customers. Staff are forced to follow Black shoppers as they browse the store, and many are reprimanded if they disobey. Anthropologie’s marketing budget is also portioned nicely for white influencers, but the pot mysteriously runs dry for Black and POC creators. There’s the ever-flattering offering of a free outfit, however cash is off the table.

Anthropologie have been called out for comments mysteriously disappearing, and have gone back and forth with updates on their progress since their original Instagram post – which many deemed to be a token gesture, with no real sentiment. They didn’t mention Black Lives Matter, and they didn’t note how they were taking charge of themselves as a business. Whilst several customers simply wanted the Instagram post to be turned into a t-shirt, many wanted their empty words to be turned into a donation. On their second try, Anthropologie promised to support more Black communities and organisations, diversify their workforce and the models and influencers they work with, expand their anti-discrimination training and would be donating $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund. Finally, on their third try they addressed the issue of racial profiling (the “Nick” in the room) and the lack of equality in their influencer outreach work, both they flatly denied existed. Which obviously went down well in the comments. With so many first-hand accounts of racial profiling, staff training and tales of poor influencer outreach strategies, it’s near-impossible for Anthropologie to deny they have a deep-rooted problem in their company, one that will be difficult to recover from.

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