Brands Need To Be Activists Too

August 6, 2020

Brands Need To Be Activists Too

Sarah Kasarsky

Amid COVID-19 and global racial unrest Americans are clamoring for change against racial injustice more than ever before. They are looking to brands to be proponents of change and take a stand for causes they believe in - but how are brands supposed to know what this means from them?

This was the topic of OBERLAND’s latest webinar, There Is No Normal, Only New: Brands Need To Be Activists Too, a 60-minute dialogue that dove deep into injustice, consumer behavior and brand activism in America. The conversation was grounded in findings from OBERLAND’s recent study, powered by real-time market research firm Suzy, that addressed the challenges and unknowns brands will encounter when navigating their stance on social issues (learn more about the groundbreaking findings below).

The discussion, led by OBERLAND’s Head of Strategy and Partner, Davianne Harris, brought together thought leaders in DEI, activism, marketing and social impact: Jacquelyn Green, Talent, Equity & Inclusion Manager - the 4A's; Jackson Jeyanayagam, Vice President and General Manager, DTC - The Clorox Company and Alex Vega, CEO + Founder - The Ronin Media.

Key points made by panelists included:

  • Addressing racism in the (virtual and real-life) workplace starts with honest conversation. It’s ok to respectfully ask a colleague about their background or how to pronounce their name; asking is better than assuming. Fostering an honest dialogue can lead to improved empathy and a culture of transparency - vital components of systemic change.
  • Unpacking “culture fit.” Finding a “culture fit” creates a barrier for diversity in hiring. In reality, this term tends to mean someone who reminds you of yourself, or someone you’d like to have a beer with - not necessarily the best person for a job. Corporate America must look beyond hiring “people who look like us” to foster opportunities for people of color and minorities. If a brand can break the “culture fit” pattern, they open the door to more talent who will  bring more insights, perspectives, experiences and values to the table.  
Panelists (from left to right): Jackson Jeyanayagam, Jacquelyn Green, Davianne Harris, and Alex Vega.
  • Realizing that no brand is perfect. No brand can be the perfect “brand activist.” It’s impossible to take a stance on every issue or donate to every cause. Consumers should support brands who are trying their best to take a stand for causes they believe in, as well as those who are owning up to their mistakes. A brand’s commitment to evolving is more important than evolving perfectly.
  • Young Americans need to become involved in politics. It’s vital for younger generations to understand the weight on their shoulders when it comes to promoting racial justice. It’s up to them to not only attend protests and post their views on social media, but effect the change they advocate for by becoming more involved in politics. This includes voting, encouraging others to vote, and pursuing careers in politics (in short, we need more AOCs!).
  • Activism does not need to be so complicated. Activism doesn’t necessarily mean protesting or lobbying. It can be as simple as reading up on systemic racism or forging a connection with someone who doesn’t look like us to find a common thread. For brands, it can be as simple as acknowledging employees of all backgrounds and races, and ensuring they receive equal opportunities. For both brands and individuals, activism is not about the marches or the rallies, but the everyday actions that bring us closer to understanding and respecting one another.

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