Racism is one of the most sensitive topics in the world, and more often than not, many people would prefer not to talk about it. According to Sipho Hlongwane, blogs editor at Huffington Post South Africa, racist acts occur daily in South Africa. When a racial incident involving a high-profile individual or a brand takes place; people are quick to take it to social media while brands, on the other hand, keep the distance.

For many years, brands have been accused of racism; whether through statements (online or offline) that were made by executives and/or producing “racist adverts”. For example in 2006, the MD of Cristal champagne Frederic Rouzaud  made a statement that Hip Hop artists (mostly black) used the champagne in a way that could be detrimental to the brand. This statement saw Jay-Z calling for the brand to be boycotted.  In South Africa, earlier this year (2016) Standard Bank’s economist Chris Hart was suspended by the bank  after he tweeted that “25 years after apartheid ended, the victims are increasing, along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities ”.  The tweet offended many people and some political parties marched to bank’s head offices. Standard Bank distanced itself from the statement by tweeting that they do not endorse such.

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A classic example of a racist advert would be the TV commercial produced for a Chinese laundry detergent brand, Qioabi. The commercial shows a black man and a young Chinese woman are flirting, as he leans in for a kiss she thrusts a detergent capsule in his mouth and bundles him into a laundry machine.  She sits atop the machine as the man spins and screams inside until, to her apparent delight, out pops a handsome Chinese man dressed in a clean, white t-shirt. The advert caused an outrage all over the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X27dvuBSyXE%20

Source: YouTube

Brands are driven by people and how a brand “behaves” is a result of the people who run it. If a brand is perceived to be racist, it means the people behind it are sadly racists. In most cases, when a brand is associated with racism, the executives of the brand are quick to put blame on the individuals working in the brand. Let’s take The Bungalow , Cape Town restaurant racial profiling incident, where two black patrons were labelled “2 Blacks” on their receipt . The patrons took offense of being labelled according their race and accused the restaurant of being racist. When they asked the restaurant manager why they were labelled according to their race and they were not satisfied with the response. They then took to social media and that caused a huge uproar on social media and most major news  wrote articles about it. Some people who visited the restaurant vowed to never set their foot at the restaurant again. The owners of The Bungalow came out in their defence saying it was the waiter’s fault and they have a clear policy of non-discrimination on the basis of gender, race or religion or sexual orientation.

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Here is  the thing, as a brand owner you need to be aware of what your brand is associated with and what is  on everything that carries your brand name even receipts. It is  understandable that one cannot control who buys and uses your brand and in what way. However, brands need to make their stance on certain issues clear before they even occur. This can be done by having company core-values that every employee working for the brand will be familiar with and lives by. Some people would argue that a brand cannot be held accountable for how its employees behave. The main thing is that, the brand has influence over their employees and that matters.

According to Bruce Crutchfield, brands have a bigger role in fuelling democracy.  This means that, brands have a moral obligation to stand up for basic human rights and the protection of the environment in which they operate. It is therefore important for brands to take a proactive stance when it comes to issues of race than being reactive because the impact can be very detrimental. As the adage goes, people are more likely to forget the things you say to them but they will never forget how you make them feel. If your clients feel that there are elements of racism in your establishment, they are more likely to avoid visiting it regardless of what you say because 80% of purchase decisions are influenced by emotions.

Please let us know about your thoughts on brands and racism and share your experiences around the topic by leaving a comment below.

Also do remember to share and to get in touch with @PatOnBrands on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat.

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Thokozani Patrick Mahlangu

Thokozani Mahlangu is an internationally certified digital marketing professional and an Mcom Business Management graduate from the University of Johannesburg. He is the Chief Brand Creator of Pat onBrands and Pat onFitness- a fitness movement through which organizes weekly runs under the banner #RunWithPat.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Interesting

    1. A big Pat on you Njabulo for reading the article. Remember if you like it share it.

  2. Great article. Most multinational brands already have policies put in place to curb racism. Companies like Colgate-Palmolive even have a toll-free number where employees can also report recism

  3. Great article. Most multinational companies already have policies put in place to curb racism. Companies like Colgate-Palmolive have a toll-free number where employees can also report racism

  4. Great article. Most multinational companies already have policies put in place to curb racism. Companies like Colgate-Palmolive have a toll-free number where employees can also report racism happening internally

    1. A big Pat on you for reading this article. What Colgate-Palmolive is doing is wonderful. I hope most companies will follow suit. A bi

      1. Thought provoking article! As a brand owner I am now more aware of the importance of taking an explicit stance when it comes to concerns such as racism and other human rights issues. Good work !

        1. I am glad that you found this article of value. A big Pat on you. As much as racism is a sensitive issue it needs to faced head on.

  5. This right here is the truth. In South Africa were we are the majority, it is critically important that brands do not desensitise and attempt to detach themselves from racial issues. These incidents will happen, what matters is the response time and management of the brand. I mean we are still waiting for a statement from the 2 blacks incident.

    1. Thank you TK. Actually, The Bungalow did respond but as expected they distanced themselves from the incident and promised to launch an internal investigation.

  6. Well yes we have achieved democracy.It is so evident that the race card issues still prevails in cowntry!!.Our black brands are not really embraced and celebrated ,for example look at “Ithala Bank”.It is a very goodbank but it is not supported and recognised,which makes it not reach it target.
    In conclusion I forsee black brands gaining momentum after 2020 and aswell discimination fading away !!

  7. Loved it. Well done

    1. A big Pat on you for reading this. Please do stay tuned for more.

  8. This was certainly thought provoking I agree fully with the content although I never thought of it in the way you have just explained. Great read.

    1. A massive Pat on you for reading this post. I am glad that you found value in the content.

  9. Great read Pat.A sequel: company culture and how corporation should engage in uncomfortable conversations with their employees.

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