When I was in grade school, Black History Month was a celebratory time. Our class focused on prominent history-makers including Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carver. Today, like many other Black marketers, I have come to anticipate a swell of projects in the weeks leading up to month-long celebration of Black history and culture. Each January, brands scramble to put together their Black History Month marketing plans to be on trend. But, while Black culture sets trends, centering Black communities should not be reduced to one. It is the responsibility of marketers from every background to intentionally include and accurately represent and reflect Black culture for more than a month.
In the wake of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and, shamefully, too many others, brands and companies pledged to advance racial justice in response to society’s demands. The spotlight was on Black communities, and consumers of all backgrounds made it clear that a corporation’s commitment to addressing systemic racism and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion would make or break their relationship with its brand.
Representation became the topic du jour, and marketers rightfully focused on making sure Black talent was visible. This hypervisibility, especially during cultural moments such as Juneteenth and Black History Month, begged the question of who is at the decision-making table and behind the camera, not just in front of it. Marketing and advertising executives must take action and go beyond months or moments to keep pace with a society that increasingly needs to believe, not just see, change:
Go beyond February
Gaining the trust of Black audiences cannot be a once-a-year priority, it must be a daily one. Black people exist beyond February, and marketing and advertising should reflect that. Your marketing strategy is incomplete if it does not include multicultural approaches. Is your brand showing up in and with Black communities consistently? Cultural moments are a time to double down on efforts that are already in place and highlight ongoing campaigns, commitments and activations.
From retail and health to tech and beyond, an always-on strategy is what it takes for your audiences and stakeholders to believe that your brand and organization values Black communities. The one-off statements and short-lived nonprofit and influencer partnerships that have come to dominate Black History Month campaigns are transparent and often draw more deserved ire than doing nothing at all.