As protesters took to the streets across the United States recently to express their anger over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, a growing number of local brands chose to take part in the social justice conversation.
“Brands have a responsibility — to both their customers and employees — to use their voice in support of those who have not been heard,” said Will Collie, general manager of Edelman’s Southern California office in Los Angeles.
“Consumers are desperate for leadership around matters of social justice, especially regarding (Black Lives Matter), and they are voting with their feet to tell us that they expect brands to step up to the plate,” he added.
Local companies showing their support for social justice include Thousand Oaks-based Amgen Inc., which used Instagram to post a letter sent to employees by Chief Executive Bob Bradway.
“If this were an isolated event, it still would be unacceptable,” Bradway wrote on May 31. “But it is not an isolated event. It is part of a pattern that has become tragically clear in the U.S. and around the world. Equal justice and equal opportunity may be our ideals, but they are not yet our reality.”
Other locally headquartered brands voicing their support on Instagram are El Segundo-based Mattel Inc. and Beyond Meat Inc., Staples Center, Microsoft Theater, and LA Live in downtown, Anastasia Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, and Manhattan Beach-based True Religion Apparel Inc. and Skechers USA Inc.
While the posts were generally well received, some companies were called out by followers for not appearing sincere.
“Your words are appreciated however what actions do you plan to take to show the black community that you truly value our lives?” said @hellosunshine, an account that belongs to an entertainment attorney with more than 11,700 followers, in response to Guess Inc.’s post on standing for justice, equality, and community. “As a corporation focused on corporate responsibility and tolerance, we are waiting to hear what actions you will be taking to show your support otherwise your words, although compelling, are empty.”
Vic Styles, a social media influencer with nearly 50,000 followers, took aim at Revolve Group Inc.’s participation in the Blackout Tuesday campaign, which saw numerous accounts posting blank black images in an effort to silence their own messages and amplify the voices of black activists and artists.
“This box is a PR ploy and we can all see right through it,” Styles commented. “So many black influencers have specifically called your brand out for performative activism. Do better,” Styles said.
Many brands are “absolutely paralyzed with confusion both by the pandemic and the social unrest,” according to veteran publicist Michael Levine, whose clients over the years have included Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, David Bowie and Prince.
“I think that they are making a mistake of trying to be relevant when they really have nothing to say,” Levine said. “Consumers today are desperately interested and attracted to the authentic, the real, the transparent, and they’re very, very, very suspicious and cynical about brands trying to twist themselves into a pretzel to be relevant on everything.”
While brands’ involvement in social justice on social media is an important first step, their words must be backed up with action and solutions or, as in the case of Guess and Revolve, they may face backlash, Collie said.
“Brands and their CEOs must provide solutions, not just words, and where appropriate redefine the company’s purpose and goals around the mission of fighting social injustice,” he said. “As business leaders, we have a responsibility to our people and our employees to ensure that we are creating safe, diverse and inclusive workplace environments that reflect our ambition for the rest of the world.”
Anastasia Beverly Hills moved from posting on social media into action, pledging $1 million “toward the fight against systematic racism, oppression and injustice.”
“This weekend, we began with a donation of $100,000 across the following organizations: Black Lives Matter, The Innocence Project, The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Black Visions Collective, and The Marshall Project,” the makeup brand posted on Instagram. “We are taking the time internally to discuss new initiatives that will financially support Black owned businesses and artists in the beauty industry. When the details have been finalized, we will announce the process for submission or nomination, and we will update you monthly on recipients.”
National brands with an extensive presence in L.A. also took part in the social justice online dialogue.
“We must continue to challenge ourselves, and our community, to be better listeners, better partners, better advocates for one another,” Recreational Equipment Inc., the outdoor supply retail chain better known at REI, posted on Twitter on May 31. “For us to see the change we want in the world outside, we must start inside.” REI’s store in Santa Monica was heavily damaged by looters.
Streaming giant Netflix Inc., which has offices throughout Hollywood, took a similar stance a couple of days earlier, posting on Twitter that being “silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.”
YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, committed to $1 million in support of efforts to address social injustice.
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