Top brands, digital media rally around Blackout Tuesday, but it could backfire

Linda J. Dodson

Dive Brief:

  • Music streaming services from major digital media platforms including Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music and Spotify will participate in Blackout Tuesday, making their channels dark in support of protests against police violence and racial injustice that have surged across the U.S. following the killing of George Floyd, The Verge reported. Blackout Tuesday originated in the music industry, with Atlantic Records CMO Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, a former employee, spearheading the cause.
  • Spotify will air 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence on playlists and podcasts, per The Verge, representing the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck before his death, which independent experts have ruled a homicide. The streamer will also black out its social channels while amplifying black artists, a move mirrored by Apple Music, which is canceling its popular Beats 1 radio program for the day.
  • But concerns around Blackout Tuesday are already surfacing, a separate report from The Verge found. A deluge of blacked-out posts from users featuring the phrase #BlackLivesMatter are overwhelming the hashtag, which is used as a way to search out updates around the protest movement. Agyemang and Thomas’ original hashtag, #TheShowMustBePaused, is being used as an alternative in some cases.

Dive Insight:

Brands have moved quickly on social media to address the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed while in police custody, and subsequent outrage that has spiked around the country as people take to the streets daily to protest. Companies showing solidarity with Blackout Tuesday — which is being largely driven by digital media platforms — demonstrates that an eagerness to jump on social movements, even if well-intentioned, can prove counterproductive, with posts of support potentially drowning out the same advocacy they’re trying to amplify.

Not all of the brand posts related to Blackout Tuesday are using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, but consumers may remain skeptical of corporations chiming in on the subject regardless. An outpouring of support from brands around the protests has led to greater scrutiny into corporate track records on race, and some marketing experts view much of the response so far as thin, as reported in The Drum.

Hypocrisy from brands is also prevalent. A blog post by Popular Information this week reveals that many of the companies rallying around Black Lives Matter at the moment have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of Congress with an “F” rating from the NAACP, which provides a scorecard around representatives’ voting record on racial issues. Congress members with an F rating have voted with the NAACP 59% of the time or less, according to Popular Information.

Brands failing to match up their consumer-facing messages with their actual behavior risks damaging trust and loyalty, particularly at a time when public anxiety and anger are high. Marketers are under growing pressure to respond to social movements like Black Lives Matter in meaningful ways, but example of those who do so in a way perceived as authentic by consumers and in a manner that aligns with their broader purpose are few.

Beyond a number of brands that have posted tweets or other social messages in favor of the protests, a few have created more substantial marketing addressing the current unrest. Nike, which has frequently waded into controversial discussions of social issues, released a 60-second ad in support of racial justice over the weekend titled “For Once, Don’t Do It.” The video asks people not to “pretend there is not a problem in America” and confront, rather than ignore, racist behavior they witness.

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