COVID-19, the pandemic that was said to be the great equalizer, has been anything but that. The virus has impacted every corner of the world , and here in the United States, black and brown communities have been disproportionately devastated.
It’s no secret that those who were more likely to deliver our food and packages, stock our shelves, care for the elderly population and keep healthcare workers in transit— the individuals who kept our country afloat— were at greater risk for the virus and overwhelmingly African-American and Latino.
At the height of the COVID -19 outbreak, there was no shortage of ads saluting and praising workers as brave heroes, all while reflecting diversity of age, race, gender, lifestyle and occupation. The shift in tonality was appropriate, but it doesn’t change the fact that our heroes are still struggling with low wages, lack of healthcare and unemployment, as well as ongoing social injustices.
The tragic immense impact of COVID-19 on the African-American community, coupled with the state-sanctioned killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, has forced America to confront another pandemic that has long infected this country: racism. With Black Lives Matter advocates at the helm, Americans of all backgrounds have united to seek justice for the countless black lives that have been victims of police brutality, racism and ongoing systemic inequalities.
As the rallying cry for change intensifies, brands have once again humanized themselves and stepped in, denouncing racial inequities and aligning with the BLM movement. Brands like Nike and Ben & Jerry's have put out bold messages. Countless others from tech to fashion have come forth to express solidarity with the black community and have pledged to fight racism.
Solidarity statements, social posts and donations seem well-meaning, but they’re not enough. The black community and allies are questioning whether these are marketing tactics or forms of performative allyship. If it is indeed authentic, then simply, do better!
Companies' efforts to fight inequalities that African Americans face in order to push society forward shouldn’t start with news cycles, protests and hashtags. Those that have tapped into “corporate consciousness” need to take action. Bringing forth sustainable change means reflecting, having hard yet necessary conversations, becoming better educated as individuals and business leaders, and evolving.
The advertising industry also has some reckoning to do.
Addressing the lack of black representation throughout the industry is one of the most overt issues. According to the Association of National Advertisers. only 6% of marketers are African-American, and even less hold senior ranks. Clients, agencies and content partners all need to be held accountable for inclusion in all areas of the business, from the boardroom to production sets.
Change is valuing the ideas, voices and creativity of black talent and hiring and retaining black media specialists, creatives and freelancers. Change is identifying and calling out marketing, media, and creative strategies that borrow from black culture but diminish the black audience. Change is investing in content partners, both established and emerging, that are dedicated to telling black stories. Change is cultivating a brand of purpose, intersecting social impact initiatives with issues that hinder the black community and measuring the effects.
Healthcare, women's rights, education , clean air, access to technology, and fighting social injustices are all causes that will help close inequality gaps.
As a black woman marketer, I’m well aware of the prevalent inequality that exists within this industry. Despite an unnerving history, it is possible that if marketers and advertisers are truly dedicated to change, positive change can be made.
The question is, when the protests subside, will the industry remain committed to black lives?