‘Cops’ resumes production after cancellation amid Black Lives Matter movement

During the midst of the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the television show “Cops” was canceled after 30 years of being on-air, with a spokesperson from Paramount Network stating it had no “current or future plans for it to return.” 

Four months later, the production of “Cops” is starting again, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s office, where the show was hosted and will now continue. The series, however, will not air on any American television network, and will instead be shown on overseas networks that have already paid for the show. 

The events which took place over the summer prompted many companies to speak out in solidarity, similar to “Cops” being canceled. Many put out a statement saying they stood with the victims of racial inequality and strived to make their company more diverse and inclusive. 

Some came out with plans to change their norms and include more people of color and support black-owned businesses. Soon enough, however, behind-the-scenes experiences were being released from employees, showing how their company’s activism was solely performative, similar to “Cops” re-starting production. 

Starbucks, for example, was found to have forbidden their employees from wearing pins in support of Black Lives Matter after releasing a controversial statement on the civil rights movement. 

Similarly, after releasing their Black Lives Matter statement across their platforms, the CEO of Wells Fargo was found to have claimed that the company’s efforts to hire minority talent were hindered due to a “very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” citing their lack of diversity to be a cultural issue within the Black community. 

Instances like these call the performative activism of companies into question. Do they follow through with their statements? Are they simply releasing them to adhere to the social norm and because their customers expect them to? How do companies practice activism — is it genuine? 

Tony Deng, a public relations and advertising professor at DePaul, called corporations “a collection of individuals.” 

“While I do believe people sometimes will act upon the good for others, this may not be the case for corporations,” Deng said. 

Deng explained the psychological argument that an individual’s true motives are hidden from others, even themselves, so there is no way to know if their altruistic behavior is based on the goodness of others or an expected return. With corporations, however, Deng explained their motives are obvious — profit and stock price. 

“The question is whether they are after short-term gratification or long-term success,” he said. “Every corporate market communication is calculated and carefully crafted by experts in the marketing department or reliable outside agencies. They only serve the company’s commercial benefit.” 

However, Deng explained that when a company has a long-term focus and continues to include and make an effort to push its agenda concerning social activism and justice, it becomes a part of their brand and embedded into the minds of their consumers. 

“For decades, Nike has been seen through its advertising and PR efforts, in actively supporting many social justice issues, including women’s rights, LGBTQ and Black people’s rights,” Deng explained. “The key here is consistency and long-term commitment,” Deng continued, explaining it builds trust, something which can not be achieved with a few advertisements and Twitter activity. 

DePaul professor of Public Relations and Advertising Juan Mundel explained how not all corporate activism is accepted by consumers, especially if the company took the wrong approach, citing the controversy around Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement a couple of years ago. 

“It is unlikely that consumers will blindly accept corporate activism initiatives as sincere actions’ if the brand’s overall reputation and image do not align with the claims in their marketing,” Mundel said. 

This directly relates to the instances regarding “Cops” returning on television, along with the claim by the CEO’s of Wells Fargo and Starbucks refusal to allow solidarity pins. 

While the company intended to follow the social norm of corporate activism in the wake of recent issues, their practices backfired against them, which did not sit well with consumers in all instances. Why was “Cops” canceled only to return a couple of months later? Why did Starbucks refuse to let employees wear pins in solidarity despite releasing a statement on the matter? Why did the CEO of Wells Fargo insult Black people by saying their culture leads to their lack of talent?  

“Corporate activism has recently reached a new level,” Dr. Nur Uysal, a professor in DePaul’s Public Relations and Advertising Department saidd. “Moving beyond corporate social responsibility, corporate activism focuses advocacy — in most cases against the government — for changing public policies on social and moral issues.” 

DePaul Public Relations and Advertising Professor Renae Godish explained that corporate activism happens for two reasons: one — because the CEO wants to promote his or her values, or two — because leadership believes the organization’s key publics are seeking such actions. 

So why are there instances of conflict and contradictory statements by large companies in the public eye? How do they manage to so easily switch on their original words to their consumers? 

There is no one simple way to answer this, but rather, it can be traced back to the “social norm” that is expected when they come out with their statements. 

Deng believes that companies most definitely follow the norm as jumping on the bandwagon is a safe approach in a market with fierce competition, using the “pride marketing” or “rainbow-washing” example by food companies such as Burger King, McDonald’s and Oreo. 

“Joining the bandwagon, unfortunately, can be inevitable for some companies, especially when their competitors are all in,” Deng said. “With the ubiquitous presence of brands on social media, firms are expected by the public to take a stand on popular issues because they are considered part of the community.”

Deng also explained that there is a traditional marketing model that requires brands to be constantly on top of consumer’s minds. 

“There is a ‘social norm’ within the marketing realm,” Deng explains. “Once a company initiated a trend, there are pressures for others to join in.” 

Deng dove into how speaking on these real-world issues is a good strategy for the brands to develop their personality in a world of social media because it creates emotional connections with audiences which cannot be achieved by advertising. Their strategic participation increases their connection with consumers and also provides them with the opportunity of gaining more. 

While the companies do adhere to their customers, Deng explains, they also adhere to a larger audience base such as “potential customers, stakeholders, employees, business partners, government agencies, local community and the general public,” showing how the concept behind choosing the right communication tactic is about more than their customers. 

The pressure for companies to jump on the bandwagon and adhere to the social norms of activism on their platforms may result in a conflict with their goals, marketing and other aspects of their company, which can lead to a turnover or contradictory statement or action, as seen with “Cops.” 

By immediately releasing a solidarity statement without any thoughts on long-term success, companies can be placed in a difficult position when realizing that they did too little, too quickly. Perhaps that is why “Cops” is now returning to television. 

The show was canceled in the wake of the social norm to adhere to the fight against police, but the long-term effects that would happen were not thought through.