Brands Must Speak Out Against Racial Intolerance or Risk Losing Customers: Report

Brands Must Speak Out Against Racial Intolerance or Risk Losing Customers: Report


Following the police shootings of multiple African Americans, people across the country are fed up with brands and organizations that don’t fight such issues as racism and bias. Now, American consumers are ready to hit a brand where it can potentially hurt the most: the bottom line.

Just this past weekend, Rayshard Brooks was killed in a police shooting in Atlanta. His death followed similar killings of unarmed black Americans, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

New research by public relations giant Edelman suggests that brands must show a strong position for racial fairness or risk losing customers, business, and trust from people who support them.

In a special report, some 60% of 2,000 Americans surveyed by Edelman in early June reported that brands must take a stand to publicly speak out against racial injustice. That same percentage disclosed they will buy or boycott a brand depending on if and how it replies to the current protests. Protests across the country cropped up quickly following the police killing of George Floyd on May 26, which came after the massacre of an untold number of African Americans and generations of social injustice.

Richard Edelman, president and CEO at Edelman, told BLACK ENTERPRISE via email that the data is important now because the results are unequivocal: Americans, across race, gender, and age group, want brands to step up and play a central role in addressing systemic racism. Chicago-based Edelman claims it’s the world’s largest public relations firm with hundreds of corporate,  consumer brands, and organizational clients.

“This is a mandate for brands to act because consumers will exercise brand democracy with their wallets,” he says. “In the past, CEOs have spoken out on societal issues on behalf of corporate America; today, the CMO and CCO must join them as stewards of brand action.”

So, what does a brand look like by definition?

Edelman Senior Vice President Kate Meissner says “brand” is the consumer perception of a corporation – often defined by the products and services it sells, and the words and symbols it uses to distinguish those products and services from their competitors. Take financial-services and banking giant Citigroup for instance. It uses Citi as its brand name.

Meissner says brands that have historically spoken out and acted on this topic include the likes of Nike and Netflix. She added those who have made specific, actionable statements, like Ben & Jerry’s direct pledge to “dismantle white supremacy.”

Many corporations and others have recently shown their support for the Black  Lives Matter movement, pledging to invest billions of dollars to battle race-related issues.

In the A Universal Demand For Change report, authored by Richard Edelman, here were other key findings:

  • Young adults — those ages 18 to 34 — were the most avid in their response. Seventy-eight percent contend a brand must speak out. That compares to 48% for people 55 and older.
  • The main motivation for demanding action by brands is that they have a moral obligation, with 56% of respondents saying that and 52% reporting brands “owe it to employees.”

Edelman swears brands, perhaps now, have more power than the companies that own them with the brands being more flexible and responsive to consumer input. Simultaneously, the stakes might be higher and more uncompromising for brands today with recent racial incidents. Some 52% of respondents of color said that they will not work for a company that does not speak out.

  • The importance of education and influence. Some 60% of those surveyed say brands need to use their marketing dollars to advocate for racial equality and educate the public on the issue. This is particularly the case with respondents of color, of which 70% support that idea. But the report indicated brands must show their support by taking action. If not, 63% of the respondents viewed the brands as exploitative or performative for lack of action.
  • Action is needed to bring about change. Brands are expected to use their creativity and resources to encourage customers and get them engaged in promoting racial justice. Some 66% of respondents in the report maintained that belief. Additionally, brands are also being counted on to invest in looking at the root causes of racial inequality, such as education.

The report covered other topics on racism as well, including where Republicans and Democrats stand on the subject. Further, 37% of those surveyed reported they have tried to convince others to start or stop using a brand based on its stand on racial intolerance or discrimination.