Consumers are judging brand responses to the fight for racial inequality: Edelman

Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is concerned about systemic racism and racial injustice, and will buy or boycott a brand based on its response to the movement that has swept across the world.

“Silence is not an option” states the new report from Edelman: Brands and Racial Justice in America. It is based on interviews with 2,000 Americans conducted between June 5-7, in the middle of the massive social movement that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

While brands around the world have issued statements on social media pledging their support for racial equality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the Edelman study concludes that consumers expect more than talk.

The study said that such “performative” actions are increasingly seen as exploitative, with brands that issue such statements needing to follow it up with “concrete” action to avoid being seen as opportunistic.

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The study found that 60% of Americans will buy or boycott a brand based on its response to the current movement. Not surprisingly, attitudes are divided along racial lines—with 80% of the Black population saying they will buy or boycott a brand, compared to 55% of white respondents.

The study also found that 68% of Asian Americans and 65% of the Latinx population will make future purchase decisions based on a brand’s response.

In such a politically divided country, it’s also not surprising that attitudes vary by party affiliation, with Democrats more likely to buy or boycott a brand based on its actions (78%) versus Republicans (43%).

More than half of the general population (56%) regards taking a stand against racial injustice as a moral obligation for brands, while 52% say they owe it to employees.

While Edelman did not field the study in Canada, Lisa Kimmel, chair and CEO for Canada and Latin America, said that the lessons for brands are equally applicable here. “The research clearly demonstrates that brands have to make dramatic changes to the way that they communicate,” she said in a statement to The Message. “Importantly, words aren’t enough when addressing the issue of systemic racism.

“They need to follow up with specific actions, or risk being negatively judged — and less trusted — by consumers.”

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The U.S. study also uncovered differences in brand attitudes by age, with people 18-34 more likely to say they want brands to stand with them, and people over 55 saying that addressing racial inequality is a moral obligation.

Respondents indicated that it is incumbent on brands to act to create change, to educate and influence and “get their own house in order” by setting an example within their organization, reflecting the country’s full diversity in their communications, and making products accessible and suitable for all communities.

More than one-third of respondents (37%)—including 55% of people 18-34—said that they have already started attempting to get other people to start or stop using a brand based on its response to issues of racial inequality.



Chris Powell