Black Lives Matter backlash leaves brands all over the place

Brands may be wishing they’d never discovered “purpose” – because purpose can come back and bite you.

Facebook is currently copping it from, among others, #StopHateForProfit which is calling for a July boycott from advertisers in protest at its alleged fondness for right wing extremists. This despite founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent change of tack on political advertising which has led Facebook to remove some pro-Trump election ads (left) featuring sinister Nazi imagery.

Pro-Trump supporters were attacking left wing groups supposedly behind the Black Lives Matter protests.

Zuckerberg, of course, has been studiously avoiding purpose for years but it seems to have finally caught up with him. Other brands haven’t and they’ve been queueing up in the wake of, first, Covid-19 and now Black Lives Matter to show some. But when they encroach on politics in the wider sense they’re asking for trouble.

Saw somewhere that Pride, the LGBT body, was warning that its adherents “would remember” the brands that didn’t actively support Pride. But there may be good reasons for this or it may not be any of Pride’s business. The main job of a company – or “brand” – is to sell its products or services so it survives (and hopefully prospers.) That way it can support its employees and enrich its shareholders (sad but true.) Its social duty is primarily to pay its taxes (not that many of the big tech firms do so willingly or at all.)

Some big FMCG companies are currently copping it too for supposedly racist products, like venerable old Uncle Ben’s Rice (below, hailing from the 1940s), now being revamped by Mars. Quaker’s Aunt Jemima pancake syrup is going the same way. There’ll be many more too.

Maybe these are decisions that could and should have been made anyway, what’s innocuous or acceptable changes with the times. But it’s asking a lot for a brand – which has taken many years and, often many millions to build – to change with events on almost a daily basis. It makes the business of marketing almost impossible.

By deliberately putting brands into the social and political mainstream some marketers have made things infinitely worse for themselves and others. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

In the meantime we wait to see how the spat between the newly-purposed Mark Zuckerberg and his one-time pal the President plays out.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    Don’t forget, Robertson’s did it first when they dumped the Gollywog. That was twenty years ago. Although a mealy-mouthed Roberson’s spoke-hack stated… “We are retiring Golly because we found families with kids no longer necessarily knew about him. We are not bowing to political correctness but like with any great make we have to move with the times.” Purpose that you jammy bugger!