I am skeptical of brands that promote social awareness on social media. Most of the time, it’s a superficial marketing strategy aimed at millennials and Generation Z. In my mind, these large, faceless corporations are conditioning consumers to associate their product with social justice.
Last year, Nike put out advertisements focused on Colin Kaepernick, a former football quarterback who infamously kneeled during the national anthem in protest of America’s racial inequalities. Kaepernick had been actively supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice movements on social media for years, but he was brave enough to put his job and name in jeopardy by publicly protesting during a football game.
One can argue that Nike is publicly supporting Kaepernick, which is therefore publicly supporting the BLM movement. However, in a blog post entitled “With New Kaepernick Ad, Nike Wants to Replace Activism with Capitalism”, author Hemal Jhaveri raises multiple points as to why this marketing strategy was just that; a marketing strategy.
“Just as the beauty industry co-opted female empowerment and body positivity to sell soap and eyeliner, Nike’s ad creates a disturbing correlation between Kaepernick’s act of political protest, which required immense personal sacrifice, and the act of buying shoes and workout gear. For all their good intentions, this is the inevitable result of tying a political movement to a brand. Supporting Nike isn’t the same thing as supporting Black Lives Matter, but Nike certainly would be OK if you thought so.” – Hemal Jhaveri
Nike, like so many other huge capitalistic brands, places ambiguous sociopolitical issues into their marketing efforts in order to increase their profits. By doing this, they condition their consumers to associate buying their products with a form of social activism. Commercializing these political messages takes away the urgency for taking action and instead, replaces it with a desire to buy unnecessary crap.
I personally believe that because we live in a capitalistic society, nothing we put our money towards will be 100% ethical. However, we can choose to promote and support brands that match our values. Ben & Jerry’s is a brand that is strongly rooted in its company core values, and I learned this while conducting research for my collaborative group post. While reading an article on the systemic racism epidemic in America, I looked up at the search bar and realized that it was published on the official Ben & Jerry’s website.
On their website, I discovered their company mission statement:
“Ben & Jerry’s is founded on & dedicated to a sustainable corporate concept of linked prosperity. Our mission consists of 3 interrelated parts:
1. To make, distribute and sell the finest quality ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.
2. To operate the Company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.
3. To operate the Company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.” – Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s uses its platform to educate the public on social issues, promote equality, take political action, and engage in social activism.
A page on their website tracks the socio-political activism they have taken part in over the years, beginning with their creation of the 1% For Peace foundation in 1988. This foundation “set a goal to redirect one percent of the national defense budget to fund peace-promoting activities and projects”.
Co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were arrested at the U.S. Capitol while taking part in the “Democracy Awakening” protesting, which advocated for voter rights.
The official Ben & Jerry’s twitter often raises awareness for various social issues, such as transgender rights and issues surrounding the criminal justice system.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of people are incarcerated in the US simply for being unable to pay their bail. Let's end the cash bail system and stop locking up innocent people.
Learn more and take action: https://t.co/am2J7Pd6Nh pic.twitter.com/qR7wVtmvUO
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) April 14, 2019
7.5% of annual pre-tax profits go to The Ben & Jerry’s foundation – a foundation created in 1985 that distributes funds via grants to grassroot organizations and initiatives. In 1991, the foundation shifted to being run by employee-volunteers, which “reflected Ben & Jerry’s core commitment to putting power in the hands of the people, and that the Foundation should be grassroots and community-powered just like the organizations it supports”.
And finally, unlike Nike, Ben & Jerry’s is very outspoken about their indisputable support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ben & Jerry’s uses its massive platform to maintain corporate social responsibility, as well as to promote social justice and equality. They not only spread awareness and educate their audience, but they take action.
Steve Prince also utilizes his platform (i.e. his artwork) to convey the importance of the community. The Urban Garden was one example of a community collaborative project he created. The artistic process of this project was more impactful than the physical outcome. It allowed people to work together and converse within the reimagined space of the Kinetic Gallery. In this space, I felt comfortable talking about art and singing along to Steve’s playlist with complete strangers. I felt connected to everyone else in the room who took a risk by expressing themselves onto charcoaled paper. The Urban Garden was a community within a community, and a safe space for everyone who participated to feel connected, loved, and listened to.
Prince not only uses his artistry to foster empathy and human connection, but he also uses it as a “call for action”. Prince tells multi-layered stories through his art – he speaks of his experiences as a black American, America’s history of systemic oppression, what it means to be human, and more. In an interview, Prince expressed that “… it is the experience of interacting, it is the sharing, the connecting that at times is more powerful than the art. The art is a tool for engagement, and a place to rest, reflect, and prepare for action. The art locates the issues, and plainly places them before us and thus challenges us to act.” Prince uses his art as a tool to raise awareness of persistent racial issues in America, to bring people together, and to spark a desire to promote social change.
Communicating, educating, connecting, and taking action. Ben & Jerry’s may be a multi-million dollar corporation, but like Steve Prince, it uses its voice to educate its audience and promote social change. Rather than marketing schemes that exploit social issues for profit, Ben & Jerry’s acknowledges its corporate social responsibility and seems to make a considerable effort to promote positive change within our society. As previously mentioned, I believe that nothing we buy is 100% ethical – but we can choose to support brands that (genuinely) match our values. I choose Cherry Garcia and The Tonight Dough.