Hatejacking refers to the actions of far-right extremist groups that co-opt a particular brand, usually against its will. The most infamous example is that of Fred Perry polo shirts. The black shirts trimmed with yellow stripes were adopted as the unofficial uniform of the Proud Boys, a far right hate group. The company tried repeatedly to distance itself from these neo-Nazis and eventually halted all sales of the shirt. Recently the group co-opted the cartoon character, Bucky the Beaver, mascot of the Buc-ee chain of petrol station convenience stores. The chain attempted to distance itself from the extremists, denying any association with them. New Balance was also forced to clarify that their brand “does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form” after the far right group declared New Balance the official shoes of white people.
Why is it important?
Brands are often targeted at random.This presents a challenge for those wanting to please a broader audience or to remain politically neutral. The damage goes beyond reputational. Time and money need to be spent to rectify the situation, resources that could be used more productively elsewhere. Younger generations are particularly concerned that the brands they consume endorse their own values, whether this is support for a greener world or LGBTQI+ rights, to name but two, for example. So when hate groups adopt a product, it has the potential to cause real financial damage. Hate groups are prolific in the US. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center , there were 733 active hate groups in 2021. While these numbers have decreased since the high of 1,021 in 2018, active Proud Boys chapters jumped to 72 in 2021, up from 43 in 2020.
What can businesses do about it?
Brands have two possible responses to becoming the unwitting instruments of extremist groups. The first is to publicly disavow any association with the group. This is however dangerous because it could result in the extremist group doubling down on its support. The second is to choose a cause that is anathema to the fringe group and publicly support it. This would (hopefully) drive the extremists away. “I think it can help if you do that, to kind of inoculate yourself by doing positive, good, and inclusive things and displaying that,” said Daniela Peterka-Benton, author of the study “Hating in Plain Sight.” Fred Perry’s response was to run an ad campaign featuring transgender models. Early detection is also recommended. Set up a system whereby social media is regularly scoured to pick up any associations before they become problematic.
By Faeeza Khan
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Image credit:Texas Monthly