Last Thursday, in a closed-door signing ceremony, Georgia Governor Bryan Kemp signed into law a controversial elections bill that effectively restricted voting access in the state. The sweeping bill included rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited the number of drop boxes, and expanded the power of the state legislature over elections.
Following the signing of the Georgia bill, the criticism was swift and loud. Protesters gathered outside of the Georgia state Capitol, and state Representative Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested for trying to interrupt Gov. Kemp’s bill signing. Local civil rights groups, backed by Democratic lawyers, immediately challenged the Georgia law in federal court. President Biden called the bill an “attack on the Constitution” and tarred it as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
Several other states with Republican legislative majorities are in the process of passing similar laws. In my home state of Texas, for example, we have two such bills – named H.R 6 and S.B. 7 – which make the distribution of absentee ballots much more difficult. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 28 states have filed 106 bills that would restrict voter access in some regard.
No doubt, voting rights will be a battleground in the coming weeks as a coalition of Democrats, civil rights groups, and religious leaders duke it out with Republican-controlled state legislatures. However, one crucial group has remained silent so far: corporate America.
In my opinion, consumer brands should not miss out on this golden opportunity. Last summer, as millions of Americans spilled into the streets to protest police brutality, many brands expressed solidarity in the fight for racial justice. Their solidarity was celebrated by many and positioned themselves as modern, progressive businesses. Today, unless they stay consistent and join in the fight against voting rights, not only will they be on the wrong side of history, their silence will also affect their bottom line.
Take the Coca-Cola Company, for example. It is one of the world’s largest – if not the largest – beverage manufacturers. Not only do they make the soda by the same name, but Coke also manufactures Sprite, Fanta, Schweppes, Dasani, Minute Maid, and a slew of other beverages. The company is also based in Atlanta and is one of the state’s largest employers. It wields incredible influence in the area.
Last summer during the George Floyd Protests, the company aligned itself as an ally of Black Lives Matter, halted its advertising on social media in solidarity, and committed $2.5 million in grants to the NAACP, Equal Justice Initiative, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
“I, like you, am outraged, sad, frustrated, angry,” James Quincey, the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, wrote in a company statement on June 4th, 2020. “Companies like ours must speak up as allies to the Black Lives Matter movement. We stand with those seeking justice and equality.”
One of the most heavily publicized provisions of the Georgia law is outlawing anyone giving food or beverage to any voter waiting in line. To many, this particular law was seen as a direct attack on minority communities in Georgia’s urban countries who experienced ridiculously long wait times on election day.
For Coca-Cola, this is a no-brainer. Now, in the marketing world, they should engage in a bit of guerilla marketing. Coke should announce that they will be forming a squad of “Vote Quenchers” that will fan out at early voting sites and hand out soda and water.
Is the state of Georgia really going to fine one of its biggest employers? Are they really going to throw thousands of people in the hoosegow? Put the ball in their court. Call their bluff.
If Coca-Cola won’t do it, such a maneuver would be ripe for competitors like Pepsi or 7UP RC to mow the lawn on their competition’s turf. Put together an army of college-aged students and retired folks, deck them out in branded gear, and slake some thirsts in the name of democracy!
Furthermore, there are brands that make all sorts of goods from pizza to snacks that are associated with these companies that can get in on the fun. Imagine thousands of food trucks and promotional teams handing out nourishment to committed citizens!
It is an unbelievable social media opportunity. Make a hashtag like #thirstyfordemocracy, and build a contest where the person or people who take a selfie in line to vote can get prizes by posting on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s a huge branding payoff. Your product would be tasted by millions of grateful registered voters who could redeem an accompanying coupon at their local store to buy more of your product. Not to mention the inevitable amount of media exposure.
So, what do these brands get out of handing out free beverages out of pocket? In an idea, they are supporting democracy – the right to vote.
In an age where every company in the United States is trying to build and improve its diversity and inclusion programs, they would be putting money where their mouth is. They already were vocal proponents of the BLM protests over the summer. If they do not stay consistent, they will be seen as opportunistic panderers.
If more voting restrictions are passed in other states, they can make a national movement, and announce that the Vote Quenchers will be coming to those states – passing out tons of products and coupons in the process. They can dare state and local governments to arrest thousands of normally law-abiding citizens as they help people vote. All of these brands are large employers in these states through their bottling and distribution networks. I doubt that any politicians are going to antagonize the same executives they are approaching for contributions.
There are other major corporate brands based in Georgia that could similarly follow suit. Aflac, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, and UPS all have major headquarters based in Georgia. Each of these companies has funded politicians and developed vast distribution networks that could be utilized to protect their brands and promote pro-democracy initiatives.
So far, their statements of support have rung hollow with many local leaders. “I’ve seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday, celebrating Dr. King,” Senator Warnock said. “The way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”
When he was an active player, Michael Jordan was asked why he did not get more involved in a political race. His response: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” So, do brands face the risk of antagonizing their consumers? Possibly. While some vocal discontents will take to social media and burn their products in protest, the vast majority of consumers will not stop being faithful consumers.
In conclusion, it is time for companies to support their team members. Corporate America can talk about solidarity all they want, but until they do something impactful, these laws will not be defeated or repealed. If they truly start using their political capital, these states might wake up and stop trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.