Amidst the recent protests and Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, luxury brands whose storefronts in New York City’s SoHo have been boarded up to prevent looting, have hired artists to paint protest art on the boards.

An Opinion section article in the NY Times Monday, delves into the trend and offers an explanation of how this is merely an effort by these brands to “soften the brutal optics of its own self-interest.”

But is this really what’s going here? Is this for many brands simply a case, as the article describes, of being “more interested in aesthetics than coalition”? The Op-Ed, written by Max Lakin, makes a compelling argument that it is precisely that. There’s tone deafness on the part of some of these brands. Their “support” is often superficial with their initiatives failing to account for context. Lakin points out...

The cognitive dissonance of a store commissioning a graphic representation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that a riot is the “language of the unheard” on its riot-proof barricade would be parodic if it weren’t so damning.

As we’ve seen with other critical events and social movements, including the environmental movement, LGBTQ rights, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now Black Lives Matter, brands and companies big and small have quickly pivoted to adjust their marketing-communications strategies and advertising campaigns to reflect current events and burnish their images.

These efforts may be well intended and perhaps demonstrate a sincere sentiment on the part of corporate leadership, but these efforts can also ring hollow and can seem like nothing more than calculated, opportunistic virtue-signaling on a corporate scale for the sake of self-preservation.

The art is the art and it’s great that these storefronts in effect have become canvases for murals and graffiti art in the service of an important social messages and protest. But, depending on the brand and the context, street art depicting Martin Luther King on a Hugo Boss storefront in SoHo is ironic and not cringeworthy.