Third Position Revolution

Take notice of the subtext in nearly all recent advertising: Online engagement is just, right, brave, and on the right side of history. Silence is complicity, and accordingly, indictment may justifiably follow. In contrast to these narratives, to turn the screen off, to cancel the social media account, to consume less news or entertainment would be akin to turning off the flow of justice. To Turn Away, in effect, could be interpreted as taking a stand against justice, a pointed political declaration.

Brands are using the verbal and visual language of duty, and revolution.

All with a straight face. Black and white logos. Black and white issues…. with no gray.

In the same breath brand participation in a movement quickly becomes a caricature of itself, making it progressively harder to tell who’s serious, and who’s making a joke.

We’re now seeing real impacts to companies, hiring and firing policies, real changes to products, real-world adjustments that are not only appreciated, but required by the public, who are now reminding brands they can’t just talk the talk, but must also walk the walk.

The question today emerges: Which brands didn’t pile on? It’s a significant risk for a brand today to stay silent or fall short of support. Very few big brands (currently) see any benefit to denouncing or questioning outbreaks of violence and looting that occurred in a number of American cities in recent weeks. For the same reasons, many news outlets simply didn’t feature those events in their coverage. And yet you’d almost expect someone to have spoken out by now, if brands were anything like the American people, with a spectrum of beliefs and political affiliations. When we talk about silence, what exactly are we saying about dissent?

Instead, brands are reaching new heights of loudness, yelling “Look at me!” and straining to find as many improvements, pledges, and re-orgs as they possibly can.

Maybe you see it as no tragedy that L’Oréal is removing words like “white” and “fair” from their products and marketing language, replacing them with words like “glow.” I don’t lose sleep over it either. But should I… or rather, must I have an opinion on it?

McDonald’s changed its Twitter handle to “Amplifying Black Voices,” which they’ve since changed back to “McDonald’s.” What impact did this have? At the very least it must have boosted impressions, as their decision was trending for several days.

Media and entertainment brands are further leveraging the opportunity to amplify black voices, feature black content, and highlight black culture.

Which surely can’t be a bad thing, right? What’s wrong with giving more weight to black stories? Seems fine to me. I do wonder, however, what constitutes a black story? Which black stories and voices are we talking about? Any black voices? Certain black voices? What exactly fails to qualify as a black voice or black story, and why? I do wonder who makes these decisions within the walls of Comcast, AT&T, Disney, ViacomCBS, Netflix, Amazon, Google, or Apple. I do wonder if a decreasing number of consolidating media conglomerates are the ones we want to lead us on the transformative cultural journey we seem to be embarking on. I wonder about these things for good reason.

Nick Sternberg
Nick Sternberg
Nick is a professional outlier and regular contributor at the fringes of the very online.