How Brands Should Engage With The Protests


If you want to make sure your brand is visibly supporting protesters -- don’t.

If you’re worried people will be wondering why your brand isn’t more vocal -- they aren’t. Nobody cares about your brand right now.

If you haven’t spent years establishing a foundation of standing up against racism, keep your mouth shut.

Nike supported Colin Kaepernick when the NFL turned its back on him for taking a knee during the anthem. That bought the company some ground to stand on for its "Just Don’t Do It" video about not turning your back on racism.

But it didn’t buy Nike all the ground. Ace Metrix studied the response to the video: its level of “Exploit signal” was rated in the top 1.4% of all ads.



And that’s a company that has used its corporate megaphone to address ageism; advocate for people with disabilities; tackle gender issues; feature an openly gay, HIV-positive athlete (in 1995!); and challenge stereotypes about Muslims. The Kaepernick ad wasn’t even the first time Nike had addressed race.

If even Nike got pushback, what kind of reaction is your company likely to get?

This is not the time to be bringing attention to yourself.


Unless it’s your own attention.

Unless the purpose of that attention is not to take advantage of the moment to elevate your profile, but to do the work.

What work?

The work of dismantling your own complicity in the system of racism in which we operate.

The work of taking a long, hard look at yourself.

How many black people do you have in your company? On your leadership team? In the C-suite? Have you ever had a black CEO?

Are black people paid the same as white people in the same role? Are the black people in your company disproportionately concentrated in lower-paying roles?

Do your hiring practices have explicit mechanisms in place to overcome racial bias? Do you help your employees understand the systemic nature of racism and the insidious nature of unconscious bias?

Do you feel threatened by any of the above? Tempted to tell me why you shouldn’t have to think about or do any of those things?

Do the work.

Take a tip from venture capitalist Bryce Roberts: “If you’re an investor, founder or manager in tech wondering what you can do to effect change, here’s the uncomfortable answer: Make the hire. Write the check. Don’t host a dinner. Don’t weigh in on a panel. Don’t change your profile picture. Make the hire. Write the check.”

And make sure it’s the same size check it would be for anyone else. This week, VC firm Andreessen Horowitz launched a $2.2 million fund to invest in underserved founders. Sound good? The company has $2.7 billion under management. It invested $150 million in Roblox this year.

Keep your mouth shut. Look at yourself. Do the work.

If you want to engage meaningfully, it’s just that simple.

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