I’ve seen a wave of brands becoming more political since Nike reportedly adopted my branding rules to launch their campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and take a stance on police brutality.
But I still believe there’s a long way to go. Brands need to do more. We all need to do more.
Because George Floyd should be alive. Watching his death at the knee of a police officer was one of the most sickening things I’ve seen in quite a while. So, it’s great to see celebrities from Beyoncé, Cardi B and Lizzo, to Jamie Foxx, Justin Bieber and LeBron James speaking up, and teaching us all a thing or two about taking a stand.
The first lesson is that we mustn’t be afraid to speak our minds.
Justin Bieber posted a video of the death of George Floyd on his Instagram with a message doing precisely that. “THIS MUST STOP,” he wrote. “this makes me absolutely sick. This makes me angry this man DIED. This makes me sad. Racism is evil we need to use our voice! Please people. I’m sorry GEORGE FLOYD”
A study by Edelman shows that two-thirds of Americans say they now expect brands to make their moral and ethical positions clear. Another study reveals that 61% of Americans agree that brands should be free to speak their mind. And this sentiment isn’t just restricted to some countries over others. 78% of consumers in China, 69% in Brazil, and 68% in India all consider themselves ‘belief-driven’ which means brands and social issues are increasingly going hand in hand, across the globe.
The second lesson is that audiences have a voice and will boycott those who get it wrong.
Many people ask me if it was risky for Nike to take a stand on police brutality and use Kaepernick in their marketing campaign. The campaign generated over $163.5 million in buzz, earned $6billion for Nike and proved diversity isn’t just morally right, but also the right thing business-wise. So, two years later, my answer remains the same.
I think it’s risky to stay silent. Because today, if you’re quiet, you’re complicit.
Cardi B took to her various social media accounts to call for a boycott in retaliation to police brutality against George Floyd. “Enough is enough! What will it take? A civil war? A new president? Violent riots? It’s tired! I’m tired!” she wrote. “The country is tired! You don’t put fear in people when you do this; you just show how coward YOU ARE! And how America is really not the land of the free !”
And she’s got a point.
1 in 2 people say they’ll boycott or switch to brands based on their stance towards societal issues. 67% have bought from a brand for the first time because of its position on controversial topics, and 65% would not buy from brands that have kept quiet when there should have been an obligation to speak up. And it gets better. 60% of Gen-Z will recommend brands they are “committed” to.
The third lesson is that keeping our finger on the pulse is not a nice to have anymore, it’s a necessity.
Madonna posted a video of her son dancing to Michael Jackson to ‘honor’ the death of George Floyd. But she was soon mocked on social media. So what’s the issue here? After all, dance is an important language and form of self-expression. The problem is that people no longer want words, they want meaningful action. That would be why the #JusticeForFloyd hashtag is trending.
In my interview in Fortune, I explained how PepsiCo and Starbucks made similar mistakes and received backlash. They both attempted to capitalize on race conversations in a seemingly disingenuous way. The same goes for McDonald’s that thought they could flip their golden arches upside down to “celebrate women everywhere.” Go figure.
But many brands have got it right.
Gucci decided to support gun control and donate to March For Our Lives. The CEO of Levi’s took sides in the same debate, “It’s inevitable that we’re going to alienate some consumers but we can no longer sit on the sidelines and remain silent on this issue.” Unilever’s CEO, Alan Hope, warned he’d ‘dispose of any brands that don’t stand for something.’ Yoplait successfully took on the culture of mom-shaming, and my personal fave Procter & Gamble donated over $500,000 to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, to close the pay gap between the men’s and women’s national teams. Some brands have even joined the B Corp club and been ‘certified’ socially conscious.
Kudos to all those brands who are savvy enough to stay in touch with the mood and fearless enough to speak up. That’s the formula, right there.
As for the rest of you, now’s your opportunity to be bold, do good, and increase your relevance.
Rest in peace, George Floyd. I’m so sorry for you and your family.
Named Esquire’s Influencer Of The Year, Jeetendr Sehdev is a media personality, international speaker and the author of the New York Times best-selling book, “The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).” Follow him on Twitter @jeetendrsehdev, Instagram @jeetendr_sehdev.