Consumers Want Brands to Take a Moral Stand on Racial Justice

Report by Edelman reveals silence on racism is no longer an option

The majority of Americans expect brands to publicly speak out against racial injustice. Edelman

Key insights:

In the wake of global protests demanding justice for the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota at the hands of law enforcement and #BlackLivesMatter activists calling to defund or dismantle the police, most Americans (63%) are concerned about systemic racism and racial injustice in this country.

Edelman surveyed 2,000 people from June 5-7, and researchers found that the majority of consumers want—and expect—brands to step up and play a central role in addressing bigotry and oppression.

“This is a mandate for brands to act, because consumers will exercise brand democracy with their wallets,” wrote CEO Richard Edelman in an essay issued by the public relations and marketing consultancy firm. “We have proven that brands can no longer dodge America’s original sin and third rail: systemic racism and inequality.”

Edelman pointed out that, although CEOs may have had the responsibility to speak out on societal issues on behalf of corporate America in the past, amid the tumult of 2020, CMOs and CCOs must also serve as stewards of purposeful brand action.

“The voice of the brand connects in a different way than corporations and CEOs; it inspires, motivates, and offers hope,” Edelman added. “It is powerful in making change because it stirs emotions and provokes response.”

Edelman’s advice is reflected in the results of the report wherein 56% of respondents indicated that taking a moral stand on racial injustice is seen as both a moral and societal obligation for brands. Moreover, respondents believe that brands must act to create change and influence: 60% said brands must invest in addressing the root causes of racial inequality and 57% said brands must educate the public.

“The relationship of trust between brand and consumer now depends on tangible actions destined to change the course of history,” Edelman said.

Like the proven detrimental consequences for brands that fail to respond accordingly to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, so too will brands suffer if they do not make concrete commitments to racial equality.

Per the survey, 60% of American consumers said that how a brand responds over the next several weeks to the protests against racial injustice will influence whether they buy or boycott them in the future. Thirty-seven percent of respondents already have begun to sway family and friends—who, according to the report, are the most influential sources shaping views on racism—to cut ties with a brand (or start using a brand) based on its stand on racial inequality.

In addition, politics and age play a significant role in the expectations of brands. Almost twice as many Democrats will buy or boycott brands depending on their actions around correcting racial injustice (78%) as Republicans (43%). Seventy-eight percent of millennials said brands must speak out, versus 48% of those over the age of 55.

While four times as many respondents across the political, gender and age spectrum said that taking a stand gains brand trust as those saying doing so loses brand trust, how a brand takes a stand matters, too. For example, 60% of respondents said brands need to use their marketing dollars to advocate for racial equality and to educate the public on the issue, but 63% think these promises cannot be empty (or brands risk being seen as opportunistic). And 69% of women indicated that companies have to ensure diversity and inclusion in their own organizations.

Some other meaningful and nonexploitative actions that a majority of consumers (over 60%) want brands to take include setting an example internally, making communications more representative of the full diversity of the country, making products accessible and suitable for all communities and inspiring customers to get involved in social justice initiatives.

To further drive home the points he and the firm’s study made, Edelman said that his company, like all others, no longer has the option to remain silent on racism in America. To convey his commitment to working with others to build a more just society, the CEO published 10 actions Edelman is taking to improve diversity and inclusion.

@monicroqueta Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.