Manufacturing Redemption: An analysis of brand responses to the killing of George Floyd.

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Hanlon, Paul
Racial Capitalism , Branding , Advertising , Wokewashing , Black Lives Matter , Social Media
On May 25 2020, George Floyd, a Black 46-year-old father of five from Houston, Texas, was killed by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer arresting Floyd for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. His death was met with disgust and unrest, with protests happening on the streets and online. As has become expected in the past several years with any dominant online conversation, the social media accounts of major brands started to take part and comment. These companies’ expressions of corporate grief and reflection were swift, well-packaged, and on-brand. But as major corporate brands often benefit from economic stratification - including racial-economic hierarchies - these brands' substantive actions often belied their slickly-produced expressions of solidarity with Black Lives Matter. This project examines the brand statements that appeared on social media - and continue to appear on social media - in the wake of Floyd’s killing, probing how these statements operate to produce meaning. How do they function as brand messages that continue to sell? How are they structured and consumed? How do they allow brands to have a voice in an ongoing fight for racial justice while allowing those same brands to benefit from racial capitalism and injustice? In their words and actions, brands have demonstrated an economic imperative to express alignment with Black Lives Matter and those who speak out against anti-Black racism. And yet those words and actions mainly serve to mask their misdeeds. Through close readings of brand statements, analysis of the brands behind the statements, and an examination of the advertising tropes and trends that inform the creation of the statements, this project examines how these brand actions function to misdirect consumer attention from real world conditions and mask and deflect from the brands’ roles in perpetuating racial capitalism.
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