Should brands take a stance?
Brand Twitter: is it performative activism or fighting for real change?
It would be impossible to ignore the elephant in the room this week. Leaked Supreme Court documents have shown plans to repeal Roe vs. Wade, a landmark ruling that introduced the right to seek an abortion in any US state. If Roe vs. Wade is successfully repealed, the legalisation of abortion will be a state-level issue. It’s likely that abortion will become illegal in at least 22 states, potentially more.
So, what does this have to do with this newsletter? I’m not equipped to discuss the whole story, other than to firmly state that I am in favour of the universal right to abortion. However, I wanted to take a closer look at how brands approach issues like this, and what shouts louder: a brand supporting a certain point of view, or a brand that remains silent during turbulent times.
Back in March, we saw thousands of companies tweet in support of International Women’s Day. As we saw from the fantastic efforts of the Gender Pay Gap App Bot, many of these organisations were full of empty promises as there is still a significant discrepancy between the median pay of men and women.
I wrote about this at the time, and the impact it had on social media managers/staff who managed the accounts on behalf of the companies called out for performative activism:
I think this latest news is another example of how brands are keen to be seen in a certain light, but so often refuse to take a stance in the fear of losing favour with their audience.
Even though the repeal of Roe vs Wade only impacts the US, it has still sparked an international discussion about reproductive rights and abortion. I’ve found it really interesting to see not just how some brands have chosen to react to this news, but also how their audiences respond.
Taking a stance
One of the first tweets to catch my eye was from Bungie, the games development company behind Halo & Destiny. Given the company’s recent allegations of an abusive culture towards women - and an industry-wide issue of sexism dating back to before the pandemic, it’s interesting that Bungie has chosen now to speak out.
Personally, I think Bungie’s tweet and accompanying blog post are great. The wording is plain and simple, and they offer a number of ways in which the reader can support the fight for reproductive freedom.
But how did their followers respond? I don’t want to pull through any specific tweets, but if you click on the above you will see there is really a very mixed response, with some users celebrating the brand’s outspoken approach and others expressing their fury at the idea of a games company taking a political stance.
As a side note, the idea that this topic in itself is seen as a “political” one and not a human rights issue is part of the problem.
So, brand Twitter is likely to be rather hesitant about showing support for a topic that is (unfortunately) controversial. Posting a fluffy tweet about International Women’s Day is one thing, but taking a stance and sharing tangible information about how to take action is a whole other ballgame.
Taking a stance is a risk because you might lose favour with your customers. The irony is that Destiny’s core demographic (men) aren’t even directly impacted in the same way as women. That just shows that the topic has grown far bigger than just the right to have an abortion. Layers of religious, political and social influence mean that abortion and reproductive rights are some of the most controversial topics of our times.
But failing to take a stance is much worse than losing a sale… the silence is deafening. This could mark the start of a snowball effect that sees the removal of reproductive freedoms across the western world, the impact of which would be insurmountable and terrifying for women and girls alike.
Asking the Twittersphere
To see whether people agree that brands should speak out about this and other topics, I posted a poll on Twitter. The results show a fairly consistent sentiment around brands engaging in a genuine way rather than as a token gesture.
Here are some thoughts from the Twittersphere
To conclude, Gillian makes an excellent point about whether this would even be up for discussion should it be able racism or sexuality. It’s an issue of basic human rights.
What do you think? Is it time for brands to stand up and be counted? And what does their silence mean to you? Let me know over on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a chat.
📚 Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart - The newest release from the author of Shuggie Bain, Young Mungo is a heartbreaking tale of a working-class lad in Glasgow who is finding his sexuality in a world where he is not free to be himself. I read SB earlier in the month and adored it, I think YM lives up to the hype but the former pips it to the post for me.
📚 My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh - If you like books from the perspective of terrible people then this one’s for you. I’ve read a few tales of dislikeable narrators recently (Animal by Lisa Taddeo and Boy Parts by Eliza Clark come to mind) so I am getting used to this whole ‘unhinged woman’ viewpoint. This isn’t a new favourite by any means, but it was a fun and often disgusting read. I’ll probably dip into this author’s back catalogue soon.
See you next Wednesday (I promise!) with more musings on topics that are important to me, including but not limited to: mental health, work/life balance, internet culture, and much more.
P.S. If someone forwarded you this or you arrived via Twitter, please consider subscribing!
Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:
27th April: Social media has always been evil
21st April: Who are we really?
13th April: The ultimate gramma debate
6th April: Has social media killed nuanced debate?
30th March: Finding diamonds in the rough
23rd March: Do brands really care?
16th March: The future of this newsletter
9th March: Don’t shoot the messenger
2nd March: How to stay informed without going mad
23rd February: This is how it’s always been
16 February: You can only do your best
26 January: The way to a person’s heart