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Avoiding Optical Action in Marketing

In the wake of George Floyd's death, organizations flocked to the podium to roll out their obligatory PR response and share how they would be joining the movement for racial justice.


However, as is often the case, many of these responses were items meant to feed the public image and to appear woke in front of a target demographic. In short, they're performative examples of solidarity.


We call this: Optical Allyship


That is, allyship that only serves the surface level to benefit the ally. It exists as a performance, but doesn't go beneath the surface and is not aimed at making substantive change.


In a paragraph: it's companies that speak out in support of racial equality but don't hire black executives or equally pay black employees. It's employers that don't hear the concerns of minority employees regarding discrimination.


In short, it's being vocal without doing anything.


In working avoid delivering an empty statement, it will be important to show your work -- or your willingness to work. The most impactful way to accomplish this: Pair your statement with tangible action steps or goals that you and your company hope to meet.


If you've been an ally in the fight, highlight your past work but make sure to place the focus on your continued work in this space. Renewing your sense of action will be more impactful than leaning on old efforts


How do we avoid optical allyship?


1. Be Vocal.


As Senator Corey Booker declared: Silence is violence.


2.Have Substance.


A voice with no substance merely works to silence the words of those who speak the truth. They have a negative impact on the words we need to hear.


3. Avoid the Media Circus.


Allyship done out loud is more appropriately referred to as pubic relations. Performative measures are self-serving. Though credit is due, the sacrifice is doing the work for the good of it rather than the ROI.


4. Complete Introspection.


When joining a movement, it's important that you ensure your organization meets the litmus test. Do your operations, policies, and leadership reflect the demands of the movement?


5. Do The Work.


Each statement should be paired with a tangible action or goal. There should always be real work accompanying the words.


What does all of this mean?


In a few words, lip-service isn't useful. Acknowledging an issue, saying the right things, the public is demanding more. The consumer market today is dominated by Millennials and Generation Z, two groups who live and purchase based around a value system.


These two groups want to see civic and social reform and will support organizations that match their world-view. Conversely, they will also actively avoid organizations that do not.


For one case study on effective and impactful activism, view this article from Bloomberg about Ben & Jerrys.


Final Thoughts


If joining calls for social action are the prerogative of your organization, ensuring that your response is meaningful and non-performative is key. Making the commitment to executing a genuine response is the responsibility of any organization wanting to speak up.


The list provided is certainly comprehensive and is provided by a White, male business owner. I encourage you to do engage in the work yourself, source your own information, and place your business in the position of creating a positive impact.

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