Commentary

How Should Brands Respond To Racial Inequality?

People are recognizing the need for change, but how will this influence the relationship between brands and consumers? Sustainability seemed to be the most important topic just six months ago.

Now racial equality has become the major consideration as U.S. consumers undergo a major transformation in their thinking. The potential impact could be far greater in the coming year than any event-influenced change since the Civil War. 

The potential impact is seen in the numbers revealed in several surveys. Some 74% of the 1,006 adults participating in the MSNBC survey said they support protests following George Floyd’s killing, compared with 25% who oppose it. About 69% believe the killing is representative of a broader problem in the United States.  

How should brands respond? Among all adults, as well as both black and white consumers, more people than not have said if a company declined to make an official statement about the protests, it would cause them to see the brand in a less favorable light, according to Morning Consult.

The poll was conducted between May 31 and June 1, 2020 among 1,990 U.S. adults. Among all ethnicities, 49% said they think brands should set up a fund for small businesses impacted by looting. Some 42% said they would support additional security for at-risk stores, while 42% are willing to donate to community cleanups, 36% said they would recommend closing at-risk stores, and 18% suggested racial sensitivity training,

Some brands spoke out in support of protesters on social media in a move that saw a larger share of respondents say they would have a less favorable view of a brand than those who said their view would be more favorable. That attitude has a more negative influence among white adults, but black adults report an opposite reaction, strongly supporting such a move.

Some 73% of Generation Z and millennials said they view brands that support protesters on social media more favorably, while only 39% of Generation X and Baby Boomers said the same.

It’s interesting to go back a few years to see the path the U.S. has traveled. It took four years for the message of racial injustice to gain ground outside of the African-American community. A study that dates back to September 2016 shows how much has changed, not much among the Black community, but a lot among White people.

GenForward, the 2016 survey of the Black Youth Project with the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, documents in the report what young African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Whites experienced and their attitudes toward the police and policies to enhance policing.

While 51% of White people surveyed in 2016 said they support the movement of Black Lives Matter, 66% of them said they think it encourages violence against police.

The 2016 data shows a majority of young adults of all races and ethnicities support the Black Lives Matter movement, although a big divide in support remains between African Americans (85%) and whites (51%).

While 72% of African Americans surveyed feel that the police-involved deaths in their communities are part of a larger pattern, only 40% of Whites thought it’s a systemic problem. Some 48% of Whites saw them as isolated incidents, 51% Latinos thought there’s a larger problem, 61% of Asians saw the bigger picture.

 

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