Racism isn’t just an American problem, it’s a systemic global problem. While the circumstances in the UK and Europe may be different than in the United States, racial injustice is a societal concern on both sides of the Atlantic, and all over the world – and recent research from our Edelman Trust Barometer proves it. Millions of people in both Europe and America are concerned about systemic racism in their own countries.

Brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era.

Let’s take a closer look at the data. In June, Edelman carried out a survey of consumers in the UK, France and Germany and found that nearly six in 10 people in France, four in 10 people in the UK and over one in three in Germany were either extremely concerned or very concerned about systemic racism in their country. Digging a little deeper, in the UK among minoritised ethnicities, two-thirds of people of South Asian, East Asian, South East Asian, African and mixed heritage had this concern.

Black Lives Matter shouldn’t be a controversial statement. It should be a declaration that is reflective of, and demonstrated, throughout our society. However, that is often not the case. It doesn’t take long to notice the underrepresentation of African heritage in senior positions in many industries across the UK and Europe. And the lack of racial diversity and representation in the marketing industry – across countries, product lines, communications messaging and advertising – is all too often apparent. It’s not enough to hire senior talent to plug a diversity deficit. Agencies and marketers also need to create the culture that ensures others can also continue to rise to the top.

Responding with substance

It’s on all of us to stand up for anti-racism as a force for positive change. So what can we do about it? The first step is to acknowledge the problem and to want to do something about it. Open the doors, remove the blinkers, and create more seats at the table for people who don’t look like those that are already there. This is how we become proactive at being inclusive and establishing an equitable environment. There's a responsibility and opportunity to turn the tide so that all are treated equally, and so that brands truly engage all the people they sell products to – not just a segment of them.

For such a widespread issue, there also needs to be a democratised response. Racial injustice isn't something brands can lay squarely at the door of government. Brands need to act decisively because consumers expect them to; 43% of Brits felt that brands should fill the void left by government, and over half of people (57%) said that addressing the root causes of racial inequality was important in earning or keeping their trust in a brand.

Brands also need to realise that taking action on racial injustice should be seen as a responsibility and an opportunity rather than simply a reaction to recent events. Concern about racial injustice is consistently high, and can spike even higher after an act of violence or injustice against people of African heritage. Our US Edelman Trust Barometer data showed this after the August shooting of Jacob Blake. On this issue in particular, there’s a lot at stake for brands because silence and inaction could affect their bottom line.

Consumers are already voting with their feet. Half of the UK general population (52%) said the way brands respond to racial injustice would influence whether they buy from or boycott them. For South Asian, East Asian, and South East Asian respondents, that number rose to 75%. So, how can brands retain the confidence of existing and potential customers now and over the long term?

They need to say and do the right thing. Rushing in with meaningless rhetoric – especially when it is not backed up by concrete action – won’t cut through. While silence – and inaction – speak volumes, speaking out and taking action is the very basis of building trust. Agencies need to help brands change tack – from story-telling to story-doing.

Acting now for the future

Dealing with racial injustice isn’t just a now issue, it’s a forever issue. The actions taken today will directly impact future generations.

Almost 4 in 10 people in our research said they would not work for an organisation that fails to speak out on racial injustice issues. When you look at minoritised ethnicities, it jumps to almost 6 in 10. More than half of young people (53%) also don’t want to work for organisations who fall short in this either, and they are expectant brands will address the need for diversity and inclusion at work. As brands and employees, we must engage with these concerns and these communities to ensure relevance in the future.

Not only can we put measures in place that are more inclusive of diverse audiences, but also make the preparations for a future of work that works for a future society that we can all feel a part of. More representation in ads, more representation on the shelves, more representation on boards and the C-suite. Brands can change society from the inside out and bring about benefits that benefit everyone.

Brands can change the game – within their companies and beyond. Once the stresses of 2020 are behind us, let’s not get back to normal. Because normal was the problem.