Seeing as everyone and their mother seems to have an opinion on the July insurgence of the Black Lives Matter protests, I thought I’d add my 2cents worth.

While not everyone should have these opinions (or, at least, should not share them on social media), the great thing is that the world is scrambling over something besides the latest Trump scandal. The bar on human interest remains high, clearly.

In the past month, we’ve seen black squares posted on Instagram, solidarity hashtags dominating Twitter and even the emergence of a new method of demonstration: social distance protesting (brought about by characters in the Hague opposing systematic racism in the Netherlands while maintaining COVID-19 preventative measures). You go, Dutch!

When people unite, corporations must too (ah, capitalism). This wonderfully humanitarian phenomenon is called brand activism: a fascinating (at least to me) trend in which corporations take a stand on the latest social hype… just because they can sell you something from a new angle. (Wow, now I feel justified in buying those expensive shoes; thanks for posting a minute-long video on social media in response to George Floyde’s murder!).

Seemingly overnight, our beloved brands are developing campaigns and posting statements from CEOs because of consumer trends shaping market interest. This isn’t a new sensation in media and marketing. Generally, people seem to support brands if they are involved in some sort of activism (like Nestlé, who is committed to making 100% of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025). For instance, I have changed loyalties from Cadbury to brands that show ‘palm-oil free’ somewhere on the packaging. Cadbury, you lost your most devoted customer. Save the orangutans!

While I recognise the benefits of having proactive social movements that revolutionise corporate advertising campaigns, our responses to organisational support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is changing from ‘you go, Nike!’ to ‘go away, Nike…”

When I think of a commercial playing the brand activism game, I instantly remember the Emmy-winning ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign launched by Nike (September 2018) starring quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As you probably know (queue our addiction to instant news and obsession with social media scandals) Kaepernick was fired for kneeling during a 2016 pre-game national anthem in protest of racial injustice in sunny ole’ America.

Nike’s firework comment on racial equality fizzled out when 2019 public records exposed that less than 10% of Nike’s 300-plus vice-presidents worldwide are black. Talk about irony.

Naturally, with the increase in popularity of the #BLM movement, brands are patting themselves on the back for showing solidarity with the BLM Community on social media. My question is:

do they support the Black Lives Matter Movement, or does this support end after the ‘post’ button has been tapped?

Note that brands and corporations to which we devote so much of our identity never initiate the change. That is important. Nike didn’t say “Racism is bad. Let’s change it.” but they did profit off of a televised, public instance of someone else taking a stand (or a knee) commenting that racism is bad (a very simplistic analysis of Kaepernick’s protest, obviously).

Nike’s advertisements seem to be the go-to examples of corporate social responsibility when, in fact, they profit off of the exact injustice against which they protest.

Are social justice-loving brands adding volume to chants of equality, or are they throwing money at the problem?

Kathryn van den Berg

When trying to come up with an alias for my blog, I turned to words people have used to describe me for inspiration. The term 'control freak' popped up in my mind, but I'm not that confrontational and opinionated (anymore...). And so came into existence a happy compromise between my A-type personality and sense of humour.

Kathryn is The Control Enthusiast.

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