Marketers wade into protests

protests george floyd new york
protests george floyd new york
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Protests are sweeping the nation as rage over police brutality boils over. The coronavirus pandemic has left more than 100,000 US dead. Millions are anxious, depressed, and out of work.

For marketers, it's also a terrible time. Why advertise when people aren't receptive to your message, or worse, might resent it?

The economy and buying will come back eventually. But as Lauren Johnson and I reported , companies are in a Catch-22. People expect them to stand for something besides the products they sell, and live up to it.

But the protests are more emotionally charged than other social issues companies have attached themselves to, and many consumer companies owe their success to the black community, raising expectations on them to support that same community now.

So when companies support protesters and denounce racism while permitting racist messages to spread (Facebook) or mistreat workers (Amazon), those companies risk a special kind of backlash.

And as a Morning Consult poll found , people are divided by things like race and generation and the kinds of responses they want to see from companies, making it tricky for companies to fashion a response.

Like it or not, corporations have assumed the role government and other institutions used to play, which may be why we care so much what companies do and say and why the stakes for them are so high. As The Edelman Trust Barometer has found over the years, people have more faith in businesses than the government to do the right thing.

Go deeper: First the pandemic crushed companies' advertising. Now they risk sounding tone-deaf for supporting growing protests.

Agencies look in the mirror

Companies might avoid criticism for speaking out if they make sure their own house is in order first, experts say. And in the case of advertising, the companies that are responsible for how brands are portrayed are notorious for having few people of color in their ranks.

Patrick Coffee rounded up what the ad holding company giants like WPP and Dentsu have responded to the protests, from requiring anti-racism training and making executive ranks more diverse.

Read more: CEOs of the 5 biggest ad holding companies, including WPP and IPG, announced steps to combat discrimination such as anti-racism training and diversity programs

Here are other great stories from advertising, media, and beyond:

That's it for now. Take care and see you next week.

Lucia

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