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Performative Marketing… Don’t Do It!

Before we get into today’s topic, I’d like to talk about one of the major moves I’m making in 2021. I’m actually going to start hosting monthly networking events. The first one will be in late February/early March. I will be hosting this event using Hopin, which means that there will be plenty of one-to-one networking. And half of the proceeds will be donated to a charity or non-profit, to be determined. I’d like to make it a different one every single month. 

What makes this networking event different is that it’s invite-only. If you want to be invited, you’ll have to be somebody that I or my podcast guests know. Each of my podcast guests will get 3 invitations that they can give out, meaning that this event will have people of a high caliber. I’ll make sure that everybody who attends is within the sphere of what we’re largely looking for, like knowledge entrepreneurs, social impact entrepreneurs, etc. Those are the types of people who will be there. 

I’m scared to make this move, and that tells me that I’m moving in the right direction. I’m feeling some insecurity, which tells me that I’m moving into a space where I’m going to experience growth. So if you’d like to experience this growth with me and network at this closed invitation-only event, be sure to drop me a DM and I will put you on the interest list! 

What Is Performative Marketing?

Performative marketing is basically talking the talk, but failing to walk the walk. You try to capitalize on the fact that everybody is talking about X by posting things that have basically nothing to do with you, your business, or your personal life. 

Now, some of these things seem less harmful, like Earth Day. If you post something about Earth Day but you don’t recycle, that seems less harmful. But in recent years, companies have been trying to capitalize on causes that have caused severe backlash. 

Performative marketing is basically when you pretend to care about something, but you don’t. 

On MLK day, I can’t tell you how many people posted quotes about love and how we should overcome hatred. 

But if you’ve read the letter from Birmingham Jail or the book Why We Can’t Wait, then you might be able to appreciate the quote that I shared on MLK day. Martin Luther King Jr. felt that white supremacists were not the biggest hurdle to black people achieving equality and equity in the US, but the white moderate. That’s the person who says, “Now is not the best time.” 

You have people sharing MLK quotes, who would have hated him if he was alive, just as they hate the BLM protestors. Most of those protests were largely peaceful, which means that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been attending them. If he had been at a peaceful BLM protest, a lot of people who posted about how great he was would have hated him for that. That’s performative marketing. 

The Black Square

Sean says that he got banned by his former employer for their disingenuous posts on social media. I’m assuming he’s talking about the black squares, where everybody was posting a black square to “bring attention to” the BLM protests. And yes, that was incredibly disingenuous. 

We saw a lot of people, companies and professionals post this black square. Just doing that makes it performative.  If you do something to show that the cause itself matters to you, that’s different. You posted a black square and donated to a DE&I nonprofit or charity. You posted the black square and marched in a protest. You posted a black square and put out water because you were in the pathway of a protest. What other behaviors were you doing to show that the cause was actually something that mattered to you? 

The Ice Bucket Challenge

The ASL Challenge is another really great example. You poured a big bucket of ice water on yourself, and then what? If you did do something else, don’t ask me in the comments, because this is not for you. You were not performative if you donated, you marched, or you did something else. 

The Kylie Jenner Pepsi Ad

I have 2 other examples that are relatively recent. The first one I want to present to you is the Kylie Jenner Pepsi ad. 

Kylie Jenner’s doing some sort of modeling thing, and you can see they’re cutting to people protesting in the street. Kylie suddenly becomes aware that something is happening outside. 

She goes outside, she grabs a Pepsi, she’s fistbumping people and they’re like, “Yeah! We’re protesting!” And then she goes to the police officer, gives him a Pepsi. and then people start cheering. Pepsi solved it. 

That ad caused us so much backlash that Pepsi actually pulled the ad. Before posting something like this, the main filter should be, “I am getting ready to post about something. How else am I going to have an impact beyond this post?” 

That was the problem with the Kylie Jenner Pepsi ad. It trivialized what people were protesting about. You’d see Tweets like, “Pepsi was the answer to police brutality. Somebody call up Black Lives Matter because all they need is Pepsi.” If you look up Kylie Jenner and Pepsi commercial, you can find a video by Insider that pulled a lot of the Tweets that accurately express the sentiment of people. 

Flo Milli and Beats by Dre

A more recent one was Flo Milli and Beats by Dre. It caused a huge uproar, so you can be part of a marginalized group and still do performative marketing. 

She gets out of the car, walks up to this generic Confederate statue, starts dancing and the words “Flex that clap back” flash across the screen. And then she walks away. 

From a marketing perspective, there are some underlying themes that they could’ve explored. If Flo Milli has broken any new ground or if she’s supposed to be representative of black women coming up everywhere, they didn’t put anything in there to indicate that. 

People were saying, “Oh, all we had to do was dance and it would’ve solved the problem.” Beats by Dre took what they thought was an opportunity to capitalize off of a recognizable cause, but it trivialized these types of protests or the taking down of these statues. 

If they had paired it with meaningful visuals and announced some type of campaign where Beats by Dre was going to actively lobby to try and get the statues taken down, it wouldn’t have been performative. But that would have required work. They might have failed, but it would have been them putting their money, time, and effort where their mouth is.

Performative Marketing by Small Businesses

I want to talk about this from a small business perspective, because the examples I’ve given so far are from big companies. I want you to think about Martin Luther King Jr day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pride Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, etc. 

On any of those months or days- especially the ones that involve people and their pain – think twice before sharing your post. Are you posting about something, but not doing anything else? 

If you’re going to post about Black History Month, is there a nonprofit or charity that you can donate your time/money to? If it’s cancer, is there a cause that you can donate to? If it’s mental health awareness, is there something you can donate your time/money to? 

How can you use your platform for good? I’m starting to do that with my podcast. I’m inviting DE&I professionals onto my podcast to talk about their businesses and the big why’s behind their work. I’ve already had 2 DE&I professionals come on, one in the social justice reformation area and another in the education equity space. That’s an area where you can bring social media activism and actual activism together. I am using my platform to give other people a voice. 

If you are going to post about Black History Month this year, be careful. Because there are more people willing to say something. If you want to post about Rosa Parks being let out, what about the dogs and the fire hoses? 

If you’re going to talk about civil rights – which has largely been whitewashed – maybe you should take a deeper look at what Black History Month actually means in this country. It’s not, “Oh there was a little bit of fighting and some people died, but it wasn’t that bad.” No, it was that bad. 

Black History Month is not just for us to honor the activists who did the work, but it’s also for us to acknowledge the people who made sacrifices. And in some cases, they made the ultimate sacrifice for something that they had no control over. 

The same thing goes for Pride Month and any of the other months that honor a specific group of people. If you are going to post about those things, I’m not discouraging you from posting. What I am doing is encouraging you to see how you can show that you actually support the causes you’re posting about. 

How Can You Make Sure Your Marketing Isn’t Performative?

In summary, how can you make sure your marketing isn’t performative? If you’re going to post, see how you can also support the cause. You can give support that doesn’t involve leaving your house. Find a way. That is what I’m asking from you. 

I know that this was a heavy one. This is the energy that’s been simmering inside of me as I’ve been figuring out the direction I want to take my business in, and how I want to make a difference. 

I want you to know that if you’re wondering if you should post something, I’m more than happy to give it a second look. If you’re posting in support of a cause, ask somebody from that marginalized group. These groups of people are not a monolith. 

You want to make sure that – even if you’ve done this for 5 years in a row – it isn’t performative. It’s a lot easier to think before you post than to try to clean up the mess afterward. 

Being Silent to Avoid Being Performative Is Not the Solution

Let’s say you’re the person who never posts about any of these things because you don’t want to be performative. You think people don’t want to hear what you have to say. But what I want to ask you is, “Are you giving your audience the information they need to make the choices that most align with their values?” 

Let’s say I’m a personal brand growth strategist, and you’re a potential client. You are considering 2 of us; I’m A and the other person is B. There’s not a lot of personal brand growth strategists out there, and you feel very strongly about DE&I, you support BLM, you want the Muslim ban repealed, etc. Those are your beliefs. 

And maybe I don’t align with all of your beliefs, but I do support BLM, though I don’t convey that at all. Neither does B, but let’s say they are actively against BLM. Neither of us have told that to you, so you’re not sure who to pick. You might pick B, who does not align with your deeper values as a person. 

Are you sharing enough to make sure that people who want to make decisions based on their values can make that decision in good conscience? If I find out somebody supports DE&I initiatives in their community, that gives me an opportunity to make a decision that’s aligned with my values. And I will pick that person 100% of the time, as long as I don’t have to also offer up my firstborn as a downpayment. 

Even if the person who aligns with my values is more expensive than the person who doesn’t, I will still go with the person who aligns with my values. It’s just a fact. It’s called conscious consumerism, which I have a blog post on

Thank you so much for joining me for this Marketing Monday! If you have any other questions about performative marketing, send me a DM or talk to somebody else you trust. This is a no-judgment space, and I’d much rather help you ahead of time than try to help you clean it up. Be sure to check out The Defiant Business Podcast and catch up on any episodes – if you haven’t already! I’m looking forward to what we’ve got going on for the rest of 2021.