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Building an anti-racist brand: On problem-solving creativity and authentic actions

Building an anti-racist brand: On problem-solving creativity and authentic actions

By Olivia Bohringer

It’s been a high-stakes year: Everything has felt extreme. And to be fair, a lot of things have been extreme...but the beauty of extremity is that it invites creativity. We’ve seen this truth in action as people find ways to connect within the constraints of a COVID-19 world, common ground across the fragility of an election year, and upsides of our worlds upending. Creativity has become the coping mechanism — in some ways, it’s the only way through.

In June of this year, Instagram feeds were covered in aesthetically-informative images posted in solidarity with BIPOC across the country. For those speaking out against racism, creativity solved the challenges of protesting during a pandemic, of disseminating information when truth is subjective, of making voices heard when no one had listened before. 

Now, as we continue to reckon with how we as a culture must do more for people of color, creativity again reveals ways forward. Brands have found unconventional ways to enter the conversation and put action behind words. 

Quite simply, the next wave of creativity is being pioneered by anti-racist actions. 

We’ve collected a few of the most compelling ones here, as inspiration for anti-racism put into action, from a brand perspective. These are an extension of our Open Brief for Building an Anti-Racist Brand, where we offer a framework of how to become an anti-racist brand. The examples teach us a few things: 

  1. Listen. To your employees, to your customers, to your community. They’ll show you the way as much as you can show them. 
  2. Look forward. Reflection is necessary, but experiences from the past shouldn’t be a barrier to a better future. 
  3. Do what you can, with what you have. Every brand is equipped differently for this undertaking. Take your brand equities and put them to work, even if it feels small...small is still a start. 
  4. Humility wins over pride. Owning our own responsibilities is key. Setting aside personal pride makes more room for growth: take your missteps, and make a better tomorrow out of them. 
  5. Be a people-first organization. Act out of love for people, not out of protection of your product. Take care of each other not just because it’s good business, but because it’s good humanity. 

Anti-racist brands in action: Target

The Minneapolis-based retailer had a lot of rebuilding to do after the protests began this summer, beginning with their internal culture. Their Lake Street location, badly damaged during the protests, presented an opportunity to further their Diversity & Inclusion efforts. 

This specific location was blocks from where George Floyd was murdered. Though Target is generally beloved by a certain sector of Americans, it’s recognized as a symbol of exclusion, elitism and corporate greed by another. Thus it was caught in the crossfires of a nation mourning, fighting and dividing…photos of the protests showed looting and total destruction. 

Target didn’t just pick up the pieces and rebuild post-protests. The team assigned to work on the Lake Street project spent months speaking with the community, working alongside its employees there, understanding the wants and needs of their neighbors and enlisting local, Black-owned businesses to help in the process. Target worked to understand the root of why this happened, and its own role leading up to it. They didn’t adopt anti-protest rhetoric. They took the opportunity to turn it into pro-community conversation. 

Anti-racist brands in action: NBA

Some athletes double as activists. Sports arenas become soapboxes. Fields built for playing are used for protesting. Professional sports are now in the crossfires of social justice conversations, with their players entering the spotlight to take a stand (or knee) for what they believe in. 

Following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, the Milwaukee Bucks did just that. The players staged a walkout during a scheduled game against the Orlando Magic, effectively postponing the playoffs until their players’ union reached an agreement with the NBA. 

The NBA stepped up. The league joined its players in creating a social justice coalition, recognizing the weight of its own responsibility and reach at a time where Americans needed to see right from wrong. In response, the NBA converted its franchise-owned arenas into polling locations for the 2020 election, an especially critical need as more and more communities are impacted by COVID-19 — BIPOC communities especially. “Black Lives Matter” was painted across courts during games. Players donned jerseys with social justices messages on the back. The NBA became an arbiter of change, court by court, game by game. 

Anti-racist brands in action: BabyNames.com

Some of brands’ greatest power comes from their platforms. For a brand like BabyNames.com, their reach comes from their utility: parents across the country turn to the site for inspiration. What is a seemingly objective product — an index of alphabetically-listed baby names — can actually be highly political. Resumes with seemingly “Black” names are often overlooked. “Ethnic” names are mispronounced, or totally renamed, to create an otherness. BabyNames.com saw the intersection of their offering and the moment in the social justice discourse, and acted. 

BabyNames.com reskinned their homepage to list out the dozens and dozens of names of Black boys and girls, men and women who have been killed at the hands of police, introducing the image with the powerful disclaimer: “Each of these names was somebody’s baby.” What every visitor to their site found was humanizing, humbling and honoring. 

They furthered their work by donating a portion of their proceeds to five organizations, ranging from Black Lives Matter to the Color of Change Education Fund, additionally linking to other resources for site users to explore. 

What BabyNames.com did wasn’t radical or overt or headline-grabbing...the brand simply saw this action as the right thing to. By humbly entering the conversation in a space that was appropriate for them, and backing up this initiative with donations and education, BabyNames.com brought visibility to social injustice and humanity to the conversation.

Being an anti-racist brand is much bigger than advertising. It’s an inside-out pursuit, beginning with who you are as an organization, driving action that impacts who we are as a culture. As our Open Brief for Being an Anti-Racist Brand notes, Barkley is big on taking actions across the spectrum beyond just what we consider “advertising” — be it internal culture initiatives, or reexamining how your business model functions, or exploring new brand partnership ideas. Because as much as culture shapes brands, brands shape culture. And an anti-racist culture is good business for everyone.

Barkley US

Oct 30, 2020

filed under:
Brand Culture,Culture,Diversity + Inclusion,Gen Z,Marketing,Millennial,Modern Consumer,Purpose,Sustainability,Whole Brands


Brand Culture, Culture, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Retail, Whole Brands
Brand Culture, Finance, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Scratch, Sustainability, Whole Brands
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