As we move closer to the pivotal 2020 election, the evidence is abundant that the divisions in our society have never been greater.
Stark differences in beliefs, religions and politics have always been a part of our history. For better and for worse, disparities have always existed between Republican and Democrat, North and South, black and white, just to name a few. For a time, it seemed that we were starting to bridge these gaps between us. It generally felt like we were becoming more unified.
And then, almost overnight, it stopped. 24-7 news cycles each sell a distinct way of looking at the world, Charlottesville protests and counter-protests, immigration debates, climate arguments, mass shootings … at times it all seems overwhelming.
Unfortunately, our politicians are not giving us any signs that they will be the ones to lead us out of our current cycle of division and polarization.
Some companies have chosen to differentiate their products by standing on one side of contentious political issues. Nike’s use of the former NFL star, Colin Kaepernick, created a lightning rod. It was beloved by those who see Kaepernick as standing up to police brutality and inequality in the United States and mocked by his detractors who believe that he is disparaging a flag and anthem synonymous with those who sacrifice their lives to defend a democratic country. A backlash on social media and an initial drop in Nike’s stock price made the gloating worse. Then, a few months after the 2018 Labor Day launch of the Kaepernick campaign, ABC News declared “Nike sales booming after Colin Kaepernick ad, invalidating critics”.
But other companies have chosen a different path, trying to bring people together. Perhaps drawing on that despair, some companies are recognizing that most people are looking for hope and believe that our differences aren’t as significant as they are made out to be in the mass media and within our increasingly online, social-media-driven, society.
Hershey’s recently made a heart-warming ad about bringing people together in a neighbourhood where neighbours live side by side, but don’t know much about each other. The premise is that a residential street is closed off on a Saturday and a giant crate is left in the middle of the road. Residents pour out on to the street, together with trying to solve the mystery of what’s in the giant box. Eventually, the box opens and reveals a giant grill with all the ingredients to make S’mores, featuring – of course – Hershey’s chocolate. Together the neighbours put marshmallows on sticks and share the messy treats with each other.
Hershey’s has been praised as a leader in the industry for its efforts to clean-up the global chocolate supply chain and rid it of child labour and third-party partners that harm rainforests through irresponsible harvesting of palm oil. Hershey’s is teaming up with Walgreens and the ME to WE Foundation to sell a special version of the Hershey’s new “Emoji Bar”. The Walgreen’s/WE Emoji Bar is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which requires it to be made only from sustainable chocolate that is verified as environmentally friendly and compliant with human rights standards for farmers. Funds generated through the campaign support the ME to WE Foundation’s work with local schools and teachers. Fitting with Hershey’s theme, the ME to WE Foundation fulfils its name by bringing youth together from across different communities in America to work on shared serviced programs and fills stadiums with tens of thousands of youth celebrating service.
Similarly, Heineken produced a brilliant ad in which several sets of strangers with completely opposite political and personal beliefs are put in a room with each other and tasked with building stools and a bar for them to sit at and have a beer. When they are done the collaborative building project, a beer is placed for each of them on the bar. Then they watch a video of their new “partner” in which they describe their views on topics that completely oppose their new partner’s beliefs. For example, a man who states he is vehemently anti-transgender is paired with a woman he learns through the video is herself transgendered. After the video, they are offered the chance to sit down and talk over a Heineken or leave. In each instance, the mismatched partners sit and find common ground with each either. The upshot is they discover they have far more in common than the what divides them.
Increasingly, consumers and voters are turning to the nation’s big companies to demonstrate leadership, social responsibility and show us that we have more in common than we may think in this volatile era. And these same companies are being rewarded for their efforts. If only our political leaders would follow suit.