It doesn’t matter what product or service you offer – your marketing can help heal racism. In fact, it is a marketer’s duty to do so.
There might be some of you reading this who do not embrace that there is rampant racism in our culture. If so, you may not care to read this blog – and even want to unsubscribe. That is certainly your privilege and right. However, if you are willing, before you go – read the whole article. You might be surprised.
What Racism (Really) Means
Racism, by definition, is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. What is feels like is “otherness” and how it is perpetuated is through apathy and lack of awareness on the part of many, who have learned to navigate it successfully. Most people are racist through their complicity. They mean well, but…
The signs of racism are woven into our experience, and show up when we Google “beauty”. Here’s what shows up in my feed:
It isn’t that there are no black faces. There are. But notice how many – or should I say, how few.
Now look back at the definition of racism: “each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race.” Beauty is one of these characteristics. We only need to look at what our culture is pouring out in mass quantities to understand what is happening and a foundational level.
A picture, in this case, is worth a thousand words.
So, we might be an equal opportunity employer, but be aware, black CEOs make up a tiny fraction—just 0.8%—of the Fortune 500 despite African-Americans representing 13.4% of the U.S. population, according to the most recent government estimates. In all there have only been 17 black CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies since 1999.
That is because we are wired to gravitate to those we believe are similar to us, and appearance is one easily recognized similarity. Men tend to hire men, unless they make a conscious effort to do otherwise, women hire women, blacks hire blacks, and whites tend to hire whites, unless they make a conscious effort. The problem is where we are unconsciously (or consciously) complicit.
Setting aside intentional bigotry and racism, which certainly exists, when we speak of racism in most sectors, we are speaking about a lack of awareness.
Marketing’s Role in Perpetuating Racism
Marketing creates awareness and builds trust. Traditionally, it is seen as the most powerful tool for growth of a brand – delivering core content to tell the brand’s story, grow its customer base and its profitability. Marketers do that by appealing to our target market, letting them feel seen, known and understood.
You see where I am going with this. Advertising and marketing has come a long way over a very short period of time. It also has a long way to go.
According to a 2019 article in Adweek:
“Advertising has a long history of racism. In the rare cases that black people were portrayed in ads, they were invariably depicted as subservient, ignorant and unattractive…Today, black culture holds such huge sway that it can no longer be ignored. We won’t get to the point where diversity is the norm in advertising and racist stereotypes are abandoned until there are more black people and minorities working in and occupying senior positions in our industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who identify as African American or black account for only 5 percent of those working in advertising, public relations and related sectors. Clients are also to blame. So many marketers choose white people to represent their brand over any other ethnicity, fearing their target audience won’t be able to identify with someone from another race. It’s a bizarre mindset that doesn’t manifest to the same extent in TV and film, and it is preventing us from moving forward.”
How Marketers Can Be A Force of Healing and Change
What advertising and marketing once perpetuated in its overt racism, it now has the power to un-do.
First, those of us responsible for marketing need to wake up to the power we wield to shape the emotions, desires and beliefs of those who consume our content.
Second, we are at a fork in the road. We have a choice to make here. Are we going to build messages that are a positive influence on the same culture we need to live in and raise our children in, or are we going to go for the money at all costs?
I began my book, Truth & Dare: Inside Out Marketing with these words:
“I am a marketer, and I’m not here to sell you anything. Of course, for many people those two ideas thoroughly incompatible. …However, what decades of marketing experience have shown me is that despite the vague sense that most, if not all, marketers are disingenuous; there is still a deep and unshakeable belief that marketing itself really does work.”
And it does. It works on both the marketer and the customer with incredible power. It can, quite literally, change minds. So, as marketers, I encourage you to immediately drop everything, and take these actions:
Educate yourself. Learn what racism is, and how it is a corrosive influence on your society – especially when you are not aware of its effect.
Intentionally create content that is more inclusive than you ever have before. If you aren’t sure what that is – get advice – from someone who knows.
Explore how your product or service might benefit from aligning with social justice, and being a voice for healing.
Stop hiding in denial, excuses, and worst of all, disdain that racism still is alive and well.
If you are interested in learning more, and being a force for change, here are some great links:
Here’s what Barack Obama says about how to make this moment the turning point for real change.
Are you an ally and want to learn more? Here are some anti-racism resources.
If not you, then who? And if not now, then when?