Is your brand #positionedforprogress, or privilege?
There is a battle going on right now, one that’s been happening for many years and will continue well into the future. It’s a battle for the revolution of years of oppression, discrimination and neglect. As a business, you need to pick a side, because whether you like it or not your business will either perpetuate stereotypes or create new narratives that provoke social and environmental change. Is your brand #positionedforprogress, or is it sitting comfortably in its privilege?
How does my brand’s communications affect others?
The language, the tone, the visuals and the messages your brand portrays will always, and have always affected society. As brands, you choose and carefully curate your photography and words to sell products and services, but are you considering the impact of the messages you are sending out?
Portrayals of predominantly svelte white women on a brand’s Instagram feed delivers a message to young women that this beauty ideal is not only the norm but its an expectation. It also builds a discriminatory narrative that doesn’t represent the realities for women. We are all different sizes, shapes, and colours, we identify differently, we have body hair, we are not all able-bodied, and many of us have mental health issues.
Example of a progressive brand
Credit: My favourite illustrator Pink Bits & Melbourne sensuality shop Passion Fruit, got together to create a series of digital artworks exploring the joy of self-pleasure!
Pink Bits is a wonderfully progressive illustrator and explores different representations of women to normalise stigmas and change the narrative. Pink Bits works with brands and campaigns and her artwork is a sign of how we can use visuals to change the way we see people, pleasure and progress.
Example of a brand exposing its privilege and sexism
Pritt stick had an absolute nightmare when their ‘Just 4 Girls’ range launched. You can imagine it now, a bunch of male marketers stinking of privilege and ignorance, trying to corner the female market. ‘Let’s make it pink – all girls love pink.’. Yeah, not ok!
A Brand transforming due to BLM pressure
Recently, in the US after BLM protests and pressure, Quaker have owned up to the use of a racist stereotype on their Aunt Jemima pancakes product. They have now promised to remove the image and brand. It will be really interesting to see where they take the product in the future.
The Aunt Jemima example is really critical to what is to come for brands around the world. The millions of images and stories we hear in the form of advertising and branding help us establish what is acceptable, and what is normal. By removing racist characters, and harmful stereotypes from advertising people can start to unlearn. It is our job as brands to tell a reflective story, with truth, transparency and action (The Progress Pledge). It is in our actions that integrity is built.
Isn’t this just political correctness gone mad?
Initially, an ideal created for tolerance and progress, the term politically correct, has now been hijacked by right-wing politics. If you believe Piers Morgan, Trump or Katie Hopkins, we are living in a world of political correctness gone mad in which we have become a nation of ‘snowflakes’ offended at every turn. They believe that we are losing our freedom of speech, that to be politically correct is only done at the cost of ‘real issues’, and it’s a practice that is solely for an elite section of society.
Isn’t language powerful! Look at the way the far right have commandeered a term created out of kindness and inclusivity and think about how it now leaves a foul taste in your mouth. Just like brands, language can be interpreted differently than its intended purpose. It’s all about perception.
Nowadays, futurists and liberals shy away from the term PC because of the evolution of its perceived meaning. You’re far more likely to hear the words inclusive, sensitive, or gender-free from progressive brands and campaigns, but it doesn’t mean right-wing idealists won’t scoop them up and continue to use PC as a weapon to divide and conquer.
Right-wing politics seek to divide people based on values, religions, and geography. Their divisive strategies get them votes. Being PC brings people together, so it threatens their approach to rule.
So what can we do to change this as business owners?
This country (and I’d argue many countries around the globe) are morally bankrupt and built on hate and entitlement that is delivered through divisive and antagonistic rhetoric by the right-wing media and government. We need to use brands to change the narrative and make progress popular again.
- Build brands with a mission to provoke social or environmental change
As entrepreneurial activists and influencers, we can build brands that scream shout and riot about important social and environmental issues.
- Use the power of language to tell stories of change.
By using inclusive language and avoiding expressions that marginalise groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against, we can change societies narrative and bring people together.
- Build a culture of brand regeneration
By being able to listen, learn and admit when we are wrong only then, can we change for the better. This is the very meaning of progress!
- Take the #progresspledge
State your intention as a brand standing up for progress and follow it through with action.
As a brand, you have a responsibility to understand and improve the impact you have on people and the earth. The stories you tell can change people’s opinions and influence behaviour. The images you share, deliver a narrative that either feeds into the problem or breaks through it.
What will you choose? #positionforprogress or privilege?