The killing of an unarmed black man, a police officer kneeling on his neck as he pleads for breath, has sparked civil unrest across America.
The mass protests that have followed the death of George Floyd reflect not just anger over police killings of black Americans – but generations of deep-seated divisions, inequality and discrimination.
And as the world watches this unfold, somewhere in marketing and PR departments, are people who think the priority is to let us know what our favourite brands make of it all.
In case you were wondering, it turns out a lot of them are against racism.
We all understand the desire to show solidarity and no doubt there will be people within these organisations committed to driving social change.
But changing your social avatars and making statements isn’t enough.
This isn’t about staying silent and avoiding political issues. This is about the new world where your audience knows who you are, and what you do – not just what you say.
A YouGov tracker of public sentiment in Britain over marketing around the Covid crisis reports nearly half the audience are fed up with companies talking about it and believe their messages are ‘inauthentic’.
The reason they think that? The bombardment with social posts and the language being used. Specifically ‘unprecedented’, ‘new normal’ and ‘all in this together’ – an astute audience fed up with hearing the same words of solidarity without seeing any action.
Their message is clear. We want to see what you’re doing, not see endless social posts repeating what you’re saying.
When it comes to action on diversity; fashion, retail, finance, media, sport – these are not industries with spotless records on inclusion.
And let’s not forget the very PR offices where these decisions are being taken, the 2019 PRCA Census recorded the UK industry as 89% white.
Yes, there are companies making donations to charities and action groups and contributing to bail funds for protesters. But there are bigger questions to answer that aren’t going to be solved by a hashtag and a short-term pledge.
A report from the Center for Talent Innovation released in December 2019 showed that only just over 3% of all executive and senior manager positions in the most powerful 500 companies in America are held by black professionals.
In the UK, the Parker Review this year reported 69% of the FTSE 250 had no directors from a non-white background.
You don’t have to have increased diversity as a corporate goal; you don’t have to check your marketing hasn’t featured only white models; you don’t have to promise anything. But if you do, you have to stick with it.
And if you don’t, then maybe now is not the time to come out with some platitudes about racism and diversity. Maybe now is the time to stay quiet.
Brands like American Express and Ben & Jerry’s have a longstanding relationship with inclusivity. Nike, not without controversy, puts social justice at the heart of its marketing. Their messages now are seen as consistent with their actions in the past. Not everyone has that luxury.
So maybe, for now, don’t rush to change that Facebook profile, until you’re sure what your company stands for, what it really wants to say, and what you’re going to do about it after the social media team have left for the day.