Why brands almost always lose when they take action against racism

A Nike brand advertisement shows American football player Colin Kaepernick, a figure in the fight against police brutality against blacks, in New York, in 2018.

“The L’Oréal group has decided to remove the words“ white ”/“ whitening ”,“ clear ”from all of its products intended to standardize the skin. ” The measure, announced on Saturday June 27 by the French cosmetics giant, quickly became controversial. In a global context of anti-racist demonstrations since the death, on May 25, of the African-American George Floyd, asphyxiated under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, in the United States, some saw it as an opportunistic decision and a way for the group to restore its image at a lower cost.

On Twitter, anonymous, elected and anti-racist activists wondered about the choice of removing words from packaging without, however, questioning the very existence of these skin-lightening products. This is the case, in particular, by Rokhaya Diallo : “So is it OK to continue making money on this disaster?” “

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Under hashtags #StopLOreal or #JArreteLOreal, others have criticized a measure “Ridiculous” for other reasons: some were filmed throwing branded products in the trash, talked about “Anti-white racism” or quipped by proposing to rename Claire Chazal and Laurent Blanc.

“Diversity washing”

Nike, Adidas, Disney, Netflix, Yorkshire Tea, Uber, Unilever… There are countless companies that have shown their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But when a brand engages in a political issue, it takes the risk of losing consumers who do not subscribe to this cause. Conversely, by aligning its values ​​with those of its customers, the brand creates a feeling of loyalty and a deeper personal bond, explains Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, quoted by the New york times.

On the issue of combating racism, risk taking is, in theory, quite low. However, in reality, the backlash is often immediate. Generally, brand approaches are seen as pure newsjacking : a marketing technique which consists in rapidly launching a campaign to bounce back from a media event. In other words, it’s about surfing a phenomenon to increase your sympathy capital. Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, some people evoke a diversity washing echoing the greenwashing (give yourself an ecological image to improve your brand image), that is, the attempt to recover a political theme for commercial purposes.

Furthermore, as pointed out Mediapart, it’s most of the time a facade commitment, “Against the flow of many rights flouted by these multinationals” : “Nike exploits for example Uighur workers who are persecuted by the Chinese regime (…). Amazon neglects workers’ rights and the environment (…). Apple uses children to extract cobalt from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ”

Systemic problem

Australian marketing expert Mark Ritson said the anti-racism commitment of these big companies is undermined by the lack of diversity in their governing bodies, whatever happens. The board of directors of Nike or Adidas looks like “To a selective club reserved for the Scandinavians”, he pings. According to Mr. Ritson, brands must sweep outside their doors before making a moralizing speech on social networks:

“Businesses have to become the change they are talking about on Twitter. “

This is particularly important in companies that target African-American consumers, says Nigerian-American influencer Jackie Aina, who campaigns for the visibility of racialized people in the cosmetic industry. “If you profit from a culture, you have a moral obligation to help it”she said in the New york times.

And since racism is a systemic problem, the whole issue, emphasizes the columnist of Guardian Nesrine Malik, is to challenge this system on a daily basis, not just when a tragic event like the death of George Floyd occurs. It is all the more commendable “To make room [aux Noirs] where it counts – at the table of power – and when nobody sees you doing it ”, she said before adding: “Give money and share [des messages] on social media, it’s easy. (…) But the intermediate moments are the only ones that really count. “ Particularly in the United States, where blacks are frequently killed by white police, says Nesrine Malik. They are, in fact, three times more likely to die than whites during an arrest.

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The reality of the numbers challenges. This also explains why, in the majority of cases, the reactions of brands appear awkward at best, at worst hypocrites: the situation is too dramatic for companies to be able to grasp it, and use it, without being the object of critics. Engaged Tweeters will never measure up to the context, explains the columnist for Guardian. For Mark Ritson, “If you really think black lives matter, prove it.” Otherwise, these are just empty words ”.

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