Recent protests demanding social justice and the affirmation of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement have provoked a flurry of activity among corporations as they drop brands that have racist connotations, reposition other brands with ambiguous to outright offensive racial implications, explicitly state their solidarity with the movement, and donate money to racial justice causes.
But do consumers perceive these actions as authentic — especially when many of these companies are not Black owned and/or have a lackluster history of Black corporate leadership? And will these strategies result in long-term brand loyalty?
What is brand authenticity?
The literature defines brand authenticity 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 towards the community (integrity), and reflecting values that consumers consider important (symbolism).
Continuity and credibility are focused solely on the company and its customers, so these actions can be said to have a corporate orientation. Integrity and symbolism, on the other hand, are more focused on social issues outside the immediate scope of the company, and so these actions can be said to have a societal orientation.
While both orientations are important and valid ways of expressing a brand’s authenticity, actions with a societal orientation are likely to be perceived as more authentic when it comes to social issues such as racial justice.
In addition to orientation, brands can also choose to participate in these actions more actively or more passively. Specifically, they can choose to play a supportive non-racist role as an ally, indicating support for change with limited action, or they can choose to be an activist proactively involved in anti-racist actions and campaigns.