The Damaging Effects of Silence in the Wake of Social and Political Turmoil
Guest Blogger: Rachel Borrill
April 3rd, 2018
From a young age we are taught “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” However, sometimes remaining silent can cause the most damage. As technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, brands are able to develop deeper and more personalized relationships with consumers than ever before. The most successful corporations understand the significant platform they have and use it to influence opinions and drive social change. They understand that consumers today form relationships with a company based not only on the quality of the products and services it sells, but also on the social good they support. If corporations fail to eschew corporate responsibility, or if they refrain from speaking out in support of their stated beliefs, consumers will take note and adjust their buying decisions accordingly. In our ever-connected world it is no longer possible for a company to claim support for a cause and then not act to support these beliefs. By remaining silent, or releasing apathetic statements, consumers can interpret this as compliance and the effects can be severely damaging to the brand.
We are in the middle of a socially conscious revolution. More people and companies are advocating for what they believe is right and speaking out against what they believe is wrong. Movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter are stimulating historic discussions about the way human beings are treated. No longer can companies turn a blind eye to social injustice, especially now that silence is considered by many as compliance.
The following are some examples of companies, some of whom have spoken out and been praised, and one company who effectively remained silent and consequently damaged its reputation and credibility.
Patagonia has one of the world’s leading CSR efforts and has taken significant measures to advocate for sustainable living. On December 5, 2017, Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, said he planned to sue President Donald Trump over his decision to dramatically reduce the size of the Bears Ears national monument in Utah. By standing true to its values and taking a strong stance on the issue, Patagonia not only increased its brand awareness, but also increased its sales by 7 per cent in the following week. In an interview with Chouinard about Patagonia’s success resulting from its activism, he said, “the whole outdoor industry is just run by a bunch of weenies and they’re not stepping up. They just suck the life out of outdoor resources and give nothing away… What we are doing is stealing other companies’ business. You do the right thing, it leads to more business. What am I going to do, say no?”
- Time Magazine:
Time Magazine named “The Silence Breakers” as the much anticipated “Person of the Year” for 2017. The Time cover featured women who have been pivotal in the #MeToo movement and it allowed a bigger platform for more women to speak up and share their stories. The cover was conceived, edited, reported and designed by women which further proved the commitment of Time Magazine to the movement. Time Magazine understands that the movement is about so much more than just ending sexual assault. It is empowering women to speak up and have a platform to tell their stories and seek justice for the wrongs they have experienced. It is allowing them to be heard above the victim blaming and it is shining a light on so many other injustices women face.
President Trump’s executive order of barring visitors and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the United States triggered a large backlash from top CEO’s, celebrities and corporations. While many were quick to voice their distaste for the order, the reaction from Uber is a great example of the repercussions to turning a blind eye. Lyft was quick to oppose the ban and donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers were representing the detainees. Meanwhile, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick released a statement saying he would raise the issue “this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting.” This was seen as a half-hearted response and obvious avoidance of the issue which resulted in many customers uninstalling the Uber app. In fact, the amount of erasures forced Uber to implement an automated process to handle them all.
Amidst social and political turmoil, many people find failure of sincerity more problematic than holding a difference of opinion. Consumers can be far more tolerant when a company holds an opposing view, than when they foster a belief system in order to deceive consumers for their own gain. Uber promoted unity and diversity as its core values, but when a time came to prove it, Uber outed itself as insincere and unreliable. Its inability to take a stand when everything it claimed to stand for was under attack resulted in a deafening silence and irreversible damages to the brand name.
Companies need to understand the unique platform they have. Supporting social justice movements and social impact initiatives is one thing, but when the time comes to act, it is crucial they do so to support their credibility. To do otherwise, results in a deafening silence, broken only by the footsteps of customers walking away.
Rachel Borrill is currently a student at the Public Relations Postgraduate program at Humber College. With an undergraduate degree in Gender Studies, she hopes to impact the way companies use their platforms to influence and contribute to social change. Growing up in Vancouver, she recently moved to Toronto to continue her work with companies and people who are passionate about making a difference.