“Silence is deafening, but hypocrisy is intolerable.”
-Kristian Hoareau, independent insights analyst and strategic communications consultant
What does solidarity mean? Every company you can think of sent warm-hearted statements of support to the world referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now many are expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of them face criticism for hypocrisy because they typically stay silent on political issues. PR professional Ronke Lawal, founder of Ariatu PR, notes that if the message is genuine and comes with tangible support in the form of donations, amplifying messages, or transparency and honesty, it can be helpful.
However, if corporations’ internal policies lack inclusion and bad working conditions, the message could be problematic. L’oreal was hotly criticized by Munroe Bergdorf when they released their statement, “Speaking out is worth it.” Bergdorf is a transgender model and activist who was dropped from L’oreal’s campaign in 2017 for speaking out against racism. They have since rehired her.
Consistency is also important. A brand’s history can increase its credibility. Ben & Jerry’s is one of those. Ben & Jerry’s has supported Black Lives Matter for years, and they advocate for multiple causes. The extensive statement on their website contains multiple calls for action and support.
One response from the NFL, however, caused strategic communications consultant Kristian Hoaureu Foged to comment that “not even Jay-Z can save that brand.” If you remember a certain player turned free agent Colin Kaepernick, you know that this hypocrisy is shameless and just plain baffling. The tweet from the NFL account can be read here, which includes a statement expressing condolences and sympathy for Black Lives Matter protestors.
PR professionals agree that Nike, on the other hand, which supported Kaepernick as well as other athletes of color, is heading in the right direction. Elizabeth Bananuke, founder of BME PR pros, believes that concrete action from brands such as using Black talent and targeting Black consumers is the bare minimum standard.
The consensus seems to point towards consistency, which has been a key part of the latest progress in the Black Lives Matter movement. Conscientious awareness of company policy and genuine solidarity expresses true support, rather than lip service. A brand like Ben & Jerry’s is a prime example. Its enthusiastic statements caught social media’s eye while consumers cheered them on and promised to buy their products.
The dismantling of structural racism in the private sector “could take decades.”
According to Asad Dhunna, founder of The Unmistakables, in order to participate or contribute to this movement and to find an efficient strategy, brands “have to be driven in organisational change, belief and business practices.”
And if a company hasn’t understood the term performative allyship by now, it has surely got its head in the sand. In the meantime, the consumers are always there to hold them accountable.