With the help of Channel 4, Britain’s leading supermarkets joined forces on the evening of Friday 27 November to take a stand against racism.

By special arrangement with the broadcaster, the nation’s biggest supermarket brands – Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, M&S, Tesco and Waitrose & Partners – supported their rival Sainsbury’s by lining up their Christmas commercials across two ad breaks, takeover style: an unprecedented step.

The display of unity aimed to demonstrate a cross-sector, zero-tolerance approach to racism in the wake of social media negativism over Sainsbury’s seasonal promo, which features a Black family. As Channel 4 noted in a statement, “It is not the first supermarket ad campaign to receive hateful abuse on social media.” (Channel 4 Press Office, 26 November 2020)

Each of the two breaks rolled the full, 60-second version of the Sainsbury’s ad, in which a Black father and daughter talk about their excitement for Christmas and the father sings his yuletide ‘gravy song’. Aired during the latest episode of The Last Leg, the breaks carried the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

Channel 4 chief revenue officer Verica Djurdjevic said: “As an anti-racist organisation we are incredibly proud to stand together with Sainsbury’s and our retail partners against racism, using our national platform to call out the unacceptable reaction to Sainsbury’s Christmas advert.”

Sainsbury’s head of brand communications and creative Rachel Eyre noted: “We strive to be an inclusive retailer and we’re proud to unite with our industry colleagues to stand up against racism. We’re passionate about reflecting modern Britain and celebrating the diversity of the communities we serve, from our advertising to the products we sell.

“Sainsbury’s is for everyone and we are committed to playing our part in helping to build an equal society, free of racial bias and injustice. With collective action, together we can drive change.”

Co-op CEO Steve Murrells added: “At the Co-op we won’t stand by when we see racism happening and we’ll speak out and act against it. I am crystal clear that we must be anti-racist in everything that we do and we’ll work to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racial inequalities that currently exist.

“We are proud to stand in solidarity with our peers.”

What should leaders in other sectors learn from how the UK supermarket industry has come together in this way?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The supermarkets’ stand has obviously been inspired by this year’s Black Lives Matter activism, which encouraged organisations to look critically at their own hiring practices and levels of representation. As the Institute reported in the summer, certain major brands were called out for being under-representative, even though they had aligned themselves with Black Lives Matter in their marketing campaigns. So, we saw a real spike of awareness around the relationship between marketing and representation.”

She notes: “What has happened with the UK supermarkets is that because the Sainsbury’s ad received a racist backlash from a small, but vocal, minority of customers, the desire to take a stand against racism transcended marketing strategies. By flexing their approach, these retailers are saying to the majority of UK supermarket customers, ‘We hear your disappointment over these social media comments – and we won’t stand for racism either.’”

Cooper points out: “The crucial thing to remember here is that thanks to initiatives such as loyalty-card schemes, supermarkets know their customers inside out. They have great data, and are highly savvy when it comes to their social media management. So, they are uniquely placed to communicate messages that they know will resonate with the broad base of UK shoppers. Other leaders in other industries can look at how this collaboration – this working together – can deliver on a higher purpose. In the immediate term, that would seem to be more important than profitability. But in the longer term, these statements about doing good and being honourable are going to have positive brand effects.”

She adds: “That’s how it should be. Organisations should benefit from doing good, and we should not always look cynically at that logic. For now, though, the supermarkets have determined that taking a stand is the most important thing. Yes, it may yield commercial gains in the future. But at present, it genuinely doesn’t look like that’s their motivation.”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity

In addition, see our materials on collaboration, and our October 2018 report Building Collaborative Capacity

Source ref:

Channel 4 Press Office, 26 November 2020

Image excerpted from Sainsbury’s 2020 Christmas advert