No matter where you fall on the spectrum of social justice issues, one thing is for sure – fatigue has officially set in.
Over the past two years, a wave of social justice movements has been thrust into the spotlight. We’ve seen how brands can play a dynamic role in social justice causes when they follow through on their public acknowledgments. But what do consumers really expect from them?
Well, it all boils down to action, impact, and real results. In fact, whenever social justice has been on the agenda, consumer sentiment toward brands has been consistent. They want action, impact, and results – not meaningless PR pushes. Consumers want to see brands walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Echavarria, Global Associate Director, DE&I Intelligence and Impact, at McCann Worldgroup, to get his opinion about how brands should approach talking about social justice, why those championing these movements should be in the spotlight, and what brands should do more of to connect with their audiences.
Do you feel social justice causes are impacting your business approach more than ever?
I do, because I think it’s something no brand, organization, or client can avoid — even those that claim that they don’t wish to wade into such issues.
We live in a time of great inequality and unrest, with movements for social justice growing in all parts of the world, and any organization that wishes to not only future-proof its business, but play a role in the larger shaping of culture, must be able to approach issues of social justice thoughtfully, authentically, and responsibly.
What do you think is the best approach for brands to share meaningful content related to social justice?
Nothing can beat doing your homework and understanding the history, the core concerns, and the “who’s who” of said causes and movements.
The most successful social justice approaches I’ve observed either grapple with their own role in historical exclusion or discrimination in authentic ways or empower the storytellers, creators, and people at the center of social justice causes to tell their stories. In this context, a given brand has an important, if somewhat unfamiliar role to play: one in which they cede the spotlight to the people doing the work, as the brand shifts into a supporting role through the platform it can provide, the audiences it can engage, and the legitimacy its brand recognition can offer.
How do you think brands should approach publicly speaking about social justice causes?
I think the first thing they must do is truly understand what’s at stake for these causes; who can benefit from them, what systems of social inequity they seek to disrupt, transform, or eliminate, and how they came to pass. They have to be brave and steady in their point of view, but flexible enough to learn and adjust their approach when those at the center of these causes correct them.
But if they’ve done their homework, they should be closer to getting it right (nobody’s perfect) and have the backing they need to withstand any backlash.
What are some of the challenges you face in supporting social justice causes?
There are just so many different issues of social injustice and inequality, and so many emerging and established movements for progress, that it can sometimes feel overwhelming, and that each effort is merely a drop in the ocean.
But understanding the impact of even tiny actions, the interconnectedness, and intersectionality of so many of them, and the importance of practicing my own self-care all help me keep up my momentum.
Do you think positive progress has been made on social justice causes in the US? What about compared to the rest of the world? What could the US be doing better?
I think there definitely has been progress, with a caveat. Too many people and organizations alike see the push for social justice as a movement with an endpoint (or, at least, lose their own momentum as these fights carry on).
But actually, we must all recognize that the fight for social justice is an ongoing, continuous journey. It’s one that requires us to come at it with open minds and a willing spirit to learn, be corrected, and keep working for greater progress.
Do you find people often don’t know where to start when they decide to support social justice causes?
Absolutely. It can feel like drinking from a fire hose, especially with the nature of social media, news, and entertainment. But again, I think people can benefit from thinking on a micro-level: how can their actions drive greater social progress?
Even if it’s just within their own community or immediate circle. Nobody has to take on all the challenges of the world, but if we approach these issues with open, collaborative minds, we’re better setting ourselves up to succeed.
What would you like brands to do more of in the future when it comes to tackling social justice?
I would love to see more and more brands hero the people who are leading these causes and efforts. They have an important opportunity to center voices at the forefront of the movement and position themselves as collaborators, allies, and avenues to change.
There are so many people doing great work for social justice causes, and while of course brands want to demonstrate their commitments and their progress on matters of social justice, it always excites me when I can see them bringing their presence, their platform, their authority – and their capital – to uplift the voices of those already doing the work.
Brands’ social impact efforts are better served in this regard as well, because by engaging the leaders of these movements and understanding their needs and goals, brands can then identify the specific ways in which they can most effectively drive change and progress.
Are there any learnings you can share from the last two years in regard to social justice causes? Is there anything your organization has done that you think would inspire others?
Intentionality, intentionality, intentionality. Following the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement in the Summer of 2020, so many organizations and individuals alike made commitments to change for the better on matters of race and inequality.
But social justice isn’t a passive activity, and too many treat it as one. I’m proud of the way my organization embeds inclusion as an intentional and thoughtful practice, knowing that the only way to drive true change is to be acting it out, day after day, by intentionally and proactively examining ourselves and our processes to find opportunities to elevate social justice and equality considerations in our work.