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Brands Faced Consumer Backlash Over Black Lives Matter Support, Study Finds

In an era where the lines between corporate identity and social activism blur, brands increasingly find themselves navigating the treacherous waters of public opinion on social media. At the heart of this phenomenon is the question: What happens to brands that align themselves with movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM)?

A recent study published in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science offers an answer, revealing that companies endorsing BLM have faced a backlash from consumers. This backlash manifests as a decline in social media engagement, measured by followers and likes, alongside an uptick in negative commentary.

The study was spurred by the observation that while brands are increasingly expected to take stands on social issues, the actual impact of such endorsements on consumer behavior, especially in the context of racial justice movements, remains underexplored. The researchers sought to fill this gap by examining whether brands’ support for BLM positively or negatively influenced consumer engagement on social media platforms.

The researchers programmatically collected data from two major social media platforms: Instagram and Twitter. Their dataset included information from 435 brands spanning multiple industries such as automotive, clothing, food, high-tech, jewelry, and sporting goods. {snip}


A cornerstone of the study’s methodology was its use of Blackout Tuesday as a natural experiment. Blackout Tuesday, which occurred on June 2, 2020, was a day when individuals and organizations posted black squares on Instagram to show solidarity with the BLM movement. This event provided a unique opportunity to compare the effects of BLM support on consumer engagement in a quasi-experimental setup.


The researchers found that brands that publicly supported BLM on social media generally saw a decrease in follower growth. The comparison of follower growth rates on Instagram (where Blackout Tuesday participation was widespread) with Twitter (used as a control group where the event was not mirrored) revealed a significant decline in follower growth on Instagram. This decline suggests that, contrary to the expectations that aligning with social justice causes might bolster a brand’s social media presence, public endorsements of BLM often led to a backlash among consumers.

Apart from the slowdown in follower growth, brands supporting BLM also faced an uptick in negative commentary on their social media posts. This backlash was not uniform but varied depending on the nature of the brands’ posts and their audience’s political leanings.

The study highlighted that the negative sentiment was particularly strong among consumers with Republican political affiliations who opposed the BLM movement. However, a segment of Democratic consumers also contributed to the negative commentary, criticizing brands for engaging in what they perceived as “slacktivism” – showing support for a cause without accompanying their words with actions or financial contributions.


The study also found that the negative repercussions of BLM support were not uniform across all brands. Brands with a history of engaging in social activism or those with mission statements emphasizing social causes experienced less severe declines in consumer engagement. In some cases, these brands may have even benefited from their support of BLM, suggesting that a consistent track record of social activism can mitigate potential backlash.