On May 25th, when George Floyd was willfully suffocated at the hands of the Minneapolis police, something snapped in many—not all, but a lot—of us worldwide. This particular murder was emblematic of the injustices Black people have faced in the U.S. for more than 400 years and continue to face today.
As protests continue, CEOs and brands have rushed to make immediate public statements, lest erring on the side of omission. Some of them have been well-received (Ben & Jerry’s vowing, in succinct terms, to “dismantle white supremacy.”) Some of them have been met with scorn (the NFL’s tone-deaf role reversal following years of peaceful protests from Black players).
Many of these statements have been met with calls to put action behind an immediate reaction. There are critiques of opportunism. Some say brands are leaning too far out on a limb in the interest of pushing product. And, in a related critique, others say white allies are overtalking in the interest of virtue signaling.
What cannot be denied: The tide toward social activism for brands—one we’ve observed for many years—is coming to shore. And, importantly, it’s here to stay. Not only are consumers demanding immediate action, they are also looking for a sustained movement in how brands think and communicate.
According to our latest pulse poll on Trust, released today:
- 60 percent of Americans say that brands must take a stand and publicly speak out on racial injustice.
- 60 percent of Americans say that they will buy or boycott based on a brand’s response to the current protests.
- Young people—18-34-year-olds—are leading the charge, with 78 percent of respondents saying that a brand must speak out.
- Nearly 2/3 of respondents say that brands need to reflect the full diversity of the country in their communications
- And the moment is intersectional, with increased support coming from Asian Americans and Latinx individuals.
For brands and their corporate parents, there is no pill you can take, no one-size-fits-all. This is hard, complex, varied. 63 percent say brands just making a statement without action could come across as exploitative and opportunistic. And 60 percent say brands need to invest in addressing the root causes of inequality—a massive call to action for the private sector.
The reality: You can’t fix in a month what’s been happening for centuries. But brands must step up to this universal demand for change. Our research shows that brands who lean into this moment are far more likely to gain trust than to lose it. Remember:
- If you haven’t earned the right to join this conversation, it’s never too late.
- Your actions must be true to yourself, your values, your culture.
- One statement, one action will likely not be enough.
This is a moment, but it’s not just a moment in time. It begins what will likely be a sustained and systemic shift by companies and brands, in partnership with their employees and consumers. Those in it for the long haul will reap the benefits of moral and social justice, more devoted consumers, and peace of mind.
Lisa Ross is U.S. Chief Operating Officer.