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Brands and racism: A Pat On Brands perspective

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.


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.

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.


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.

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