Brands Taking Stands
Do we need our favorite shoe company or pizza joint to speak out against injustice or endorse our sexual orientation?
Last week I was watching the INSIDE outtakes from Bo Burnham and at one point he splices in a line that must have been cut from one of the sort of “rants” that was included in the full Netflix special. He said:
“I want to know when Dippin’ Dots is going to condemn child sex trafficking.”
I chuckled when I heard that line because while most people probably don’t find that joke particularly funny, it is exactly the sort of thought that runs through my head when I see brands “take stances” or make other such moral pronouncements on social media.
Is anyone thinking: “Dunkin’ Donuts has been disappointingly silent about the epidemic of gun violence in our country”? Surely not.
In 2022, a new meme was forged in the fires of the internet that captures the sort of sentiment I’m describing. Here it is:
Here’s a brief explanation of the meme from KnowYourMeme, the authority on all internet memes:
I Support The Current Thing refers to a catchphrase often paired with the NPC Wojak character to mock people on social media who change their profile pictures to include symbols or filters that show support for a particular movement or ideology, which some deem as slacktivism.
For a while, the Current Thing was Ukraine. In the past, the Current Thing has been getting vaccinated or addressing racial injustice. For the month of June, the Current Thing is Pride Month. There is almost always a Current Thing, and brands often seem to feel the need to participate.
This year I’ve noticed a significant amount of backlash toward Pride Month brand campaigns on social media. More than I ever have. And mostly from people in the LGBTQ or people who support Pride Month. Here are just a few things I’ve seen shared this year:
Regardless of what one thinks about pride month, isn’t it a little ridiculous that brands feel the need to express their support for our sexual orientations, political causes, or works to repair injustices?
Of course, one perspective on this is that it is just marketing. A cynic may say, “These brands don’t actually care about gay people or racial injustice or whatever. They’re just trying to build their reputation and make more money.” And that could definitely be the case for some! I’m not here to analyze the motives of the brands who support whatever causes they choose to support on social media.
What I am here to say is that we shouldn’t expect Verizon to post about the latest instance of racial injustice and we shouldn’t expect Noodles & Company to tell us that they stand with Ukraine. Like, who really cares? Does the fact that L. L. Bean posts about Juneteenth or Veteran’s Day or Breast Cancer Awareness Month really matter?
I guess the heart of all of these questions is this:
What do we really expect of brands online?
As someone who used to run social media for a large, influential brand (Lifeway Christian Resources) the question is interesting to me on a couple of levels, both as a social media user and someone who has been on the brand side.
From my perspective, I don’t see it as a net positive for brands most of the time. This is probably just a byproduct of the negativity of the internet, but I feel like I hear about how brands-taking-a-stand backfires more than how it is done tastefully.
Frankly, I don’t think we should expect anything from brands in the way of making public statements in support of whatever the Current Thing is. Should we care if Chipotle or Starbucks or Nike support our views, lifestyles, causes, or otherwise?
I don’t think so.
Let’s free The Brands from the bounds of needing to care about the Current Thing.
Here are a couple of more cringe “Brands Taking Stands” sent to me today. Enjoy.
I could not agree more with this argument. I have read ad nauseam so many stories promoting the idea that before people do business with a company, they need to know exactly where the firm stands on every issue pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion. What hogwash.
Dippin' Dots is a perfect example. The company will sell far more of their frozen treats by making it available in more locations as an impulse purchase than they ever will by advertising support for any cause. In fact, knowing Americans are divided 50-50 on every single issue, advertising a position on any topic is sure to irritate half the potential market.
Any company that provides an excellent product at a reasonable price with outstanding customer service will flourish in today's business climate simply by keeping quiet on social and political issues. They should focus on doing the right thing instead of virtue signaling support for today's opinion on the current thing before the mob either moves on to the next issue or demands that a new position be assimilated by the firm.
100%. I work with brands, and it confuses me as to why they all hop on some kind of cause. If it's a cause directly related to their brand or products, that makes sense (i.e. an environmental cause for a sustainable brand), but to post about every "current thing" as part of a perceived demand from consumers for socially sensitive brands has more potential to undermine a brand's reputation than help it.