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Some Brand Actions Speak Louder Than Others When It Comes to Social Justice

September 14, 2020

Some actions are more significant than others as corporate brands try to convince consumers that those companies believe in racial justice, according to a recent report by California State University, Northridge marketing professor Tina Kiesler.

Kiesler, who works in CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, and New York University marketing professor Geeta Menon recently collaborated on an article for Harvard Business Review that examined brand authenticity when it comes to racial justice in light of the growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and increasing calls for social justice. 

“There has been an ongoing discussion at several companies and organizations about racism and social justice,” Kiesler said. “But in the past few months, that discussion has accelerated as the calls for racial and social justice have become rather louder and spread across the country and world. Part of that discussion concerns young people, consumers who do not want anything to do with those who are complicit in racism. Some organizations and businesses are listening and responding.

“The question is, how are those decisions having an impact on people’s perception of their brands?” she asked.

Brand authenticity is defined in marketing literature “as the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful to itself (continuity), faithful to its customers’ expectations for the brand to deliver on its promises (credibility), motivated by caring and responsibility toward the community (integrity), and reflecting values that consumers consider important (symbolism),” Kiesler and Menon wrote.

How brands leverage that authenticity when it comes to social issues such as racial justice can make them either an “ally, indicating support for change with limited action” or an “activist proactively involved in anti-racist actions and campaigns,” Kiesler and Menon wrote, defining one dimension of a matrix used in their report. The other dimension involves whether the brands are operating from a corporate or societal orientation.

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