Racism has become a hot topic on social media and brands are faced with the challenge of upholding non-racialism within their companies. It is just unfortunate that people work on brands and not the other way around. Sometimes people tend to do despicable things such as racist acts. The 12th of May could have been business as usual at the Starbucks in Philadelphia (in the USA), however a Starbucks employee who happened to be white saw it fit to call the police to arrest two black males; Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson for trespassing. It was after she asked the pair if they needed help which they declined by saying they were waiting for a business meeting. A few minutes later, the police came and arrested the pair.

As usual, social media went abuzz after a video of the incident emerged online and as “expected” Starbucks was accused of racially profiling and a call to boycott Starbucks was made. It is incidents such as this one that can damage a brand. H&M learned the hard way at the beginning of this year, when they showed a black boy wearing a sweater with the words “Coolest Monkey In Jungle”. The company has since experienced a massive decline in sales and of cause profit. H&M clothes to the value of $4.3 Billion remained unsold.

These are some of the consequences that brands will have to face for racially bias acts. The biggest mistake that brands make when accused of racism is assuming that after issuing a press release with the words “we are sorry, this is not who are as a brand” consumers will automatically forget. Consumers have heard such statements for the longest time. They want to see action i.e what the brand is doing to address such incidents and what the brand has done previously to deal similar situation.
Starbucks is doing something phenomenal in addressing the racial profiling incident that took place in Philadelphia. It is not a perfect solution however a step in the right direction that other brands can follow.
1. Take full responsibility- don’t play the blame game
Starbucks could have easily isolated themselves from the incident just like OUTsurance did when they blamed a juniour staff member for the “anti-black ad”. Starbucks, instead, took full responsibility of the actions by their employee and apologized. Brands need to learn that isolating themselves from issues of racism by their employees does not make them any better.

2. Talk is cheap
Brands can always talk themselves out of a situation, however that can only take them so far. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson took the onus upon himself to meet with the victims and apologized profusely to them. According to the Communications Manager for Starbucks South Africa, Fareed Mohammed Starbucks will be closing its more than 8 000 company-owned stores in the US on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in Starbucks stores. Starbucks South Africa will also conduct similar training once the training kit has been completed. Starbucks is really putting their money where their mouth is. Dove still kept their “normal to dark” labelled body creams on the shelves even after consumers deemed the packing to be racist. Other brands should learn to invest money to address racism to ensure long term success.

3. Engage with the victims
Starbuck’s CEO took time from his busy schedule to meet with the pair to apologize. Others may argue and say he had to be because a lot is at stake. What he did is remarkable, more so that the two gentlemen will be involved in the policy development. The owner of The Bungalow Restaurant in Cape Town didn’t take even two minutes of his time to address his restaurant patrons who were labelled “2 Blacks” on a till slip, instead he blamed the billing system.

4. Provide regular updates
Communication is key in any crisis. A single press release can only go so far. Starbucks issued a series of statements about where they stand as brand regarding the incident and what are they doing to better the situation. Spur Steak Ranches only issued one press release after the a black lady was attacked at one of its outlets. Spur has since experienced a steady decline in sales and profits.

It for these reasons Starbucks gets a Pat. Please remember to share the article on all your social media platforms.

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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.

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