Let’s scratch the surface of business supporting Roe

If brands want to uphold themselves as moral corporate citizens and leverage purpose for advertising, enough with the double standards, writes Charlotte Berry.

The Pro-Life movement has just pulled off one of the world’s most successful campaigns in history, with results worthy of a Cannes Grand Prix.

The case study writes itself: “Despite facing significant headwinds, with support for abortion never higher, we successfully eliminated the constitutional right to abortion. The strategy was two pronged: not only did we infiltrate the White House, we hijacked the President of the United States, leveraging our ambassador to stack the Supreme Court. Unprecedented! Then, applying grassroots deception, we fuelled local community groups to find their voices, spreading fear and propaganda on and offline

“The results? We overturned a landmark law, 49 years strong!

“Together, we successfully removed a woman’s right over her own body, protecting half the population and their unborn babies across an entire nation.”

Gold for Effectiveness.

After two generations lived with this basic human right, what a cold, dark era for women. And humanity globally.

Like many people in business, I stay with the promise I can make greater change as part of a company than as an individual. Especially, when it appears governing structures aren’t listening.

So this week, when brands and their leaders began responding to the overturning of Roe, it seemed to be a flicker of hope in the darkness.

Multinational companies including Google, Meta, Disney, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Canva, Atlassian and Salesforce, to name a few, released statements after the Bill was passed down late last week.

In an era of democratised media, there is an expectation for businesses to have a point of view on political and social issues. It must be noted, however, that most businesses who chose to make public statements, made them through the lens of internal healthcare policies; how the new law would affect their employees. But given the vast majority of these mostly progressive tech companies employ people in the states where abortion will remain legal…the question must be asked, is this enough?

Ahh yes, I can hear it now; the cacophony of eyerolls and chorus of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”…but brands had over a month since the draft bill was leaked on 2 May 2022 to consider their response to the issue. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, transformational decisions can be made overnight.

After a weekend of research and asking other industry peers, the general consensus is that it’s better to say something than nothing. But let’s be honest, these corporate statements making click-bait headlines will not impact the people who need help the most: the women living under the poverty line, on a desert island of red states, thousands of kilometres and dollars away from access to abortion.

These women are not employed by wealthy tech companies. However, these women have very likely been affected by them.

Let’s take Meta, for example. On Friday, Sheryl Sandberg, Meta CMO, posted on Facebook: “The Supreme Court’s ruling jeopardises the health and the lives of millions of girls and women across the country.”

This same platform has propagated medical misinformation and pro-life propaganda to millions of American people, women and girls through paid advertising and organic community pages, echo chambers of lethal ideologies.

A spotlight was recently shone on a Live Action digital campaign promoting “abortion reversal” medication, an unproven, dangerous method of abortion intervention never approved by the FDA.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) analysed 92 Facebook ads promoting abortion pill reversal between 1 January 2020 and 8 September 2021 and found these ads had been viewed between 16.2 and 18.4 million times. Over 700,000 of these views by children aged between 13 and 17. After which, Meta made a tidy US$140,667.

Twelve hours since the Daily Beast exposed this shocking yet unsurprising exclusive, Facebook removed the posts, releasing a statement that they violated policies around “offering adult products and services”.

It seems Meta’s appetite for swift action prevails. Since Roe was overturned last week, posts mentioning FDA-approved abortion pills have been deleted within one minute. Tested by an Associated Press journalist, a post stating: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills” was removed due to the violation of “guns, animals and other related goods” policy. When “abortion pills” was swapped for “a gun” and “weed”, no warning was received (note: Marijuana is illegal to send through the mail).

But it’s not just Facebook. Google places misleading and dangerous ads for “abortion reversal” on 83% of abortion searches, too (CCDH, 2021). Some as deceitful as “Abortion clinics near me”.

Whilst Meta supports its employees’ interstate travel (perhaps funded by pro-life ad revenue), these same employees are contractually restricted to discuss the topic at work. An internal memo leaked to the New York Times states company policy: “Discussing abortion openly at work has a heightened risk of creating a hostile work environment,” so it had taken “the position that we would not allow open discussion.” Rather ironic given the hostility and division its own platform has created globally.

Yet these same businesses proudly flaunt their logos alongside the suite of brands taking leadership in supporting pro-choice. Win-win.

In the opposite corner, brands who have historically been vocal on popular issues including pride and Black Lives Matter have remained quiet. Coca-Cola, Target, Delta, Wendy’s and Walmart have all declined to comment.

The Journal of Marketing found that corporate activism had a negative effect on a company’s stock market performance, but a positive effect on sales if the activism aligned with the values of the company’s consumers. With 52% of Americans in favour of Roe (Pew Research, May 2022), perhaps the stakes are too threatening to the bottom line when it comes to women’s bodily autonomy.

With murmurs that overturning Roe could set the precedent to flipping more progressive laws, including gay marriage and racism, it’s time to watch the brands who have cashed in on inclusivity. Will they stick to their “purpose” or retreat into the shadows?

If brands truly want to leverage purpose for advertising, recruit talent with Diversity & Inclusivity promises and uphold themselves as moral corporate citizens, enough with the double standards.

It’s time to enforce policies. It’s time to stop paid ads for misleading health claims or propaganda. It’s time to cut the donations to parties directly voting against equal rights. Boards and executives should lobby the government with the same tenacity they have when it comes to their taxes. Or most simply, brands could provide access to women outside their organisation who need direct and immediate support. If not, it’s time to stop capitalising off the transparent marketing of human pain.

Sometimes I shake my head. Are we kidding ourselves that we can create change in big multinationals simply because it’s the right thing to do?

At times like these, a bit of digging provides a stark reminder that “progressive purpose” may be good for a brand, but unless it’s good for business, keep walking.

Reimbursing staff for abortion travel expenses is better than the lowest common denominator. But let’s not pretend it’s enough. Instead, we must continue holding businesses to account and advocating for change (with a twinkle in the eye, of course).

Charlotte Berry – copywriter and senior communications strategist, Innocean


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.