The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade prompted advertisers to take action, with many making pledges and pledging to support reproductive rights. The elimination of the constitutional right to abortion is just the latest controversial decision in a series of many rulings handed down by the Supreme Court.
“What [some brands] I truly believe in white supremacy,” said Rachael Kay Albers, creative director and brand strategist at RKA Ink, a branding and marketing agency. “That’s what their actions prove. And yet they use PR campaigns to tell the public a different story. »
For example, telecommunications giant AT&T has joined the slew of companies promising to reimburse travel costs for employees seeking out-of-state abortions. At the same time, it came under fire after news outlets reported that the company was “the largest corporate donor, sending more than $1 million to funders in these [anti-abortion] laws in 13 states,” Business Insider reported. (AT&T did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.)
And last spring, Atlanta-based brands like Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot and Coca-Cola faced backlash and boycott calls from grassroots activists who criticized the brands for took a soft stance on Republican-backed election legislation, which took the name of Jim Crow. 2.0. It’s also worth noting that Delta specifically faced major backlash given its political donations to the sponsors of this legislation, according to Slate.
The ad industry as a whole has failed to deliver on its public promises to support racial justice for black people in America, according to Naakie Nartey, director of content and brand strategy at ad agency Dagger. When looking at today’s social issues, from abortion rights to voter suppression, “it’s hard to assume these topics would follow a different trend,” Nartey said. This means that since brands are dropping racial justice, it raises the question of whether issues such as abortion, voter suppression, marriage equality and others will meet the same fate.
Pressure on brands to voice support for social issues has been growing for at least two years, reaching a fever pitch after the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Still, advertisers have notoriously treated these moments as “treason events” for marketing messages, as opposed to the massive wake-up calls they are, said Jess Weiner, founder and CEO of Talk to Jess, a technology company. strategy and advice.
“They need to be part of real systemic change, whether it’s money, corporate policy, support withdrawal [for political candidates who do otherwise]she said. “They can’t get on the right side of this problem without taking a risk.”
For Weiner, American companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Nike have pledged to cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions in another state. (However, not all employees are covered and whether or not there will be any legal implications remains to be determined.)
That’s not to say every brand has to have an opinion on everything. According to Deb Gabor, founder and CEO of Sol Marketing, a branding consultancy, “Sometimes neutrality is a position.” She added that a brand can ruin its reputation, and therefore its sales, by picking and choosing issues that don’t fit its DNA.
This is an ongoing debate in the marketing industry, considering the social responsibility of brands and companies. Often, brands will find themselves faced with making money or being ethical, because “these two things often come into conflict,” Albers said. Yet despite corporate power and influence, there is something to be said for brands taking a stand.
“We live in a global society, where even more than our individual governments, brands, especially multinationals, run the world,” Albers said. “It is inevitable that we need brands to be part of the change.”
If the past two years haven’t proven anything else, it’s that brands are ultimately risk averse and it will take time to respond authentically to today’s issues, said Nartey.
“It takes hard work and intentional action over a long period of time to have real impact,” she said over email. “And brands have to honestly ask themselves if they’re here for the long haul.”