Bringing New Meaning to ‘Practice What You Preach’

August 3, 2020

Bringing New Meaning to ‘Practice What You Preach’

Sarah Kasarsky

During this tumultuous time, one thing is clear - we were all wrong when asked “where do you see yourself in one year?” last summer. When the outcry for racial justice collided with the chaos of COVID-19, we saw an unexpected twist in a time already set to be a new chapter in history books. This collision incited an equally unprecedented reaction from Americans - a clamor for real, systemic change.

According to OBERLAND’s new survey, There Is No Normal, Only New: Brands Need To Be Activists Too, of 1,000 Americans on the intersection of injustice, consumer behavior and brand activism, 42% of people are investing time, money or energy in anti-racism efforts for the first time ever. Additionally, 91% percent of Americans also believe their collective actions and the actions of brands following the murder of George Floyd will lead to sustained change regarding racial injustice. These emphasize a shift in thinking and perspective from the commencement of the BLM movement (think Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown) where actions surrounding racial injustice moved Americans baby steps forward toward racial equality, but failed to propel the nation into wide scale change.

Americans are looking to brands to play a powerful role in effecting this systemic change. The study, powered by real time market research firm Suzy, revealed that speaking out is table stakes; brands are more at risk of losing consumers if they say nothing at all than if they speak out against racism.This is particularly true among young consumers (aged 19-26), more than 35% of whom have stopped shopping from a brand who has not spoken out against racism since the killing of George Floyd. As this future generation of consumers aligns itself with like-minded brands that amplify their social views and values, it’s becoming increasingly clear that brands who don’t will be left in the dust.

When it comes to brand action, the study revealed that 80% of people want brands to respond to racism by taking a combination of verbal and physical action, like donating to an organization supporting anti-racism and making a statement. This highlights the new weight of ‘practicing what you preach,’ as brands must walk a tightrope between their vocal and physical presence in the fight against racism. This response must also stand true to a brand’s voice and values in order to be perceived as authentic. Consumers want to see brands take action, but actions must be supported by their words. For the brands that don’t take action, their words will be perceived as empty.

Ben + Jerry’s is a great example of a brand both speaking out and taking action. Not only did they make a formal statement condoning white supremacy, but have also taken concrete actions that support these words, like calling upon Congress to pass H.R. 40 and the Department of Justice to reinvigorate its Civil Rights Division as a staunch defender of the rights of Black and Brown people. Ben + Jerry’s has been a long-term proponent of social justice, so this impassioned BLM response comes across as sincere and authentic to the brand - and this bold authenticity can certainly be linked to the brand’s loyal following and years of success. P&G is another brand that has effectively tapped into racial activism, through campaigns The Talk, The Look and most recently, The Choice, over the last 4 years to encourage racial education, action and rectification.

For brands, the jarring intersection of COVID-19 and racial unrest brought heightened expectations from consumers. Brands have a large weight on their shoulders to be proponents for racial equality and use their voices to practice what they preach to compel real change. In short, being passive or silent on racial issues is simply no longer an option for brands who want to stick around in the hearts and minds of consumers.

Join us on Wednesday, 8/5 at 1PM EST for an exclusive webinar for a discussion on the study findings and panel with thought leaders in DEI, activism and impact. Register HERE

Want more? Read our initial There Is No Normal, Only New report here.

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