TEGNA: Marketing Amidst a Movement

Auto Industry Takes a Stand, While Others Remain Silent

TEGNA | June 23, 2020

This installment of ‘Marketing Amidst a Movement’ looks  at how the automotive industry is speaking up about inequality and social justice, including brands like Tesla, General Motors, and NASCAR.

TEGNA dedicates our ‘Marketing Amidst a Movement’ series is dedicated to the minority-owned businesses we support across our markets, partners, and clients. We celebrate our partners’ resilience and determination and join in their commitment to building more diverse marketplaces across our communities. Part of our commitment includes a $100,000 donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and another $75,000 to the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.  


Historically and on average, brands in America steered clear from messaging on controversial topics. Many carefully avoided politics and sensitive issues like civil unrest, protests and rioting. Today, in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of former Minneapolis police officers, brands around the globe are shifting course, taking a stand against racial inequality and systemic racism.

A new era of brand activism has begun and TEGNA Marketing Solutions is taking a sector by sector look at how this era is unfolding. In this installment of our ‘Marketing Amidst a Movement’ series, we take a look  at how the automotive industry is speaking up about inequality and social justice. 

Silence from Elon Musk And TESLA Spark New Protests    

TESLA founder Elon Musk often makes headlines for his opinions on social matters, most recently speaking out on COVID-19 restrictions put in place in California, where TESLA is headquartered. But on Black Lives Matter, he’s uncharacteristically silent.  

That silence prompted TESLA factory employees to plan a protest on Juneteenth, demanding that Musk make a statement. On the morning on Juneteenth, employees were told they could take the new holiday off, however, their time off would be unpaid.  

Later in the day, Musk made a brief statement on Twitter: Juneteenth is henceforth considered a US holiday at Tesla & SpaceX. 

As of June 19, other major brands that have not made statements include Audi, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Subaru, and Volvo.  

NASCAR Bans Confederate Flags, Sees Backlash  

As a major player in the culture surrounding the auto industry, NASCAR announced on June 10 that it would be banning the confederate flag from being displayed its events – which caused some uproar in the South, even prompting one driver to quit the league entirely.  

The move comes two days after the league’s only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, called on the league to ban the flag in an interview with CNN.  

“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. It starts with confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them,” Wallace tells Don Lemon. “There’s going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly but it’s time for a change.  

In addition to removing the flag from NASCAR events, Wallace also debuted his Black Lives Matter-themed car. Wallace was met with opposition though, as fellow driver Kyler Weatherman debuted his Blue Lives Matter-themed car, which could not finish its race due to a fire. 

The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors, and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties,” it’s statement reads.  

Two weeks after the announcement, NASCAR had to make yet another statement on the matter, this time on the heels of a noose being found in Wallace’s garage at the Talladega practice facility.   

“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” the statement reads. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. 

General Motors Creates Inclusion Advisory Board 

Considered to be one of the more progressive auto companies, General Motors already has the first female CEO of any car company in Mary Barra, as well as the first Black VP of Global Design in Ed Welburn. To build on its culture of diversity, Barry announced that GM is creating an Inclusion Advisory Board to make GM “the most inclusive company in the world.” 

In a letter to employees, Barry voiced her frustrations. “The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor astonishingly add to the important and unconscionable list of black Americans who have lost their lives based on the color of their skin. I am both impatient and disgusted by the fact that as a nation, we seem to be placated by the passive discussion of “why.” Why does this happen? Why can’t we get to a different place? Why is the response so visceral?” 

GM also recognized Juneteenth as a holiday and held 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to honor George Floyd and stand in solidarity with the Black community.  

General Motors President Mark Reuss said in an internal memo, “I really believe eight-plus minutes of solid reflection will benefit everyone,” Reuss wrote. “I’m sure many of you have felt the same glut of emotions I have while watching recent events unfold … disbelief, anger, shame, grief, and ultimately heartbreak. This is not who we are as humankind, nor as a country.” 

Mercedes-Benz, BMW Donate to NAACP Legal Defense Fund 

With statements on social media, both Mercedes-Benz and BMW have donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Although neither company disclosed the dollar amount, they did encourage consumers to contribute donations, providing links to do so.  

Both companies have come under social media scrutiny, with comments generally saying the brands’  efforts are too little too late, and not enough to make a significant difference

Do you have thoughts you’d like to share on how companies are responding in the midst of the George Floyd movement? We’d love to hear from you. Click here to share your perspective.  

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