We all know about the 2020 scramble to write BLM statements and the rush to create work that says “we get it.” But what the advertising industry continues to miss as it works on DE&I narratives and inclusive creative—often reassured by a “progress-not-perfection” loophole—is a deeper understanding and embrace of Black joy, Black love and Black optimism or what I like to call Blacktimism. Like all forms of love, measurements can be somewhat elusive but there are definitely criteria through which to evaluate its presence and its authenticity.
The recent U.S. Senate confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was a study in micro, macro and mega aggressions familiar to Black candidates, particularly Black female candidates in virtually any industry—advertising and marketing included. While not necessarily voiced aloud in our corporate worlds, the behaviors lie beneath the surface and find a way to make their presence known. Then came Cory Booker who, choosing to ask no questions, spent his time kvelling and celebrating the moment with unabashed Black joy. Booker also spoke about love—Black love—which he underscored includes a deep love for America—a country that doesn’t always love Blackness back.
“I’m not letting anybody steal my joy,” Booker said to Jackson, adding, “I’m embarrassed. I just look at you and I start getting full of emotion.” He acknowledged the breadth of her professional and personal dimensions—her faith, her intellect, her motherhood—but also spoke to the very specific Black experience: the challenges and indignities that are still faced regardless of stature and accomplishments. But “you’re here,” Booker said, speaking about what it means to see one’s own ancestors reflected in the barrier-breaking journey that drives America to make good on its promises and, as a result, reach new heights.
Black love is one of the most powerful signifiers of American love and that is what agencies and clients need to embrace internally, in terms of company culture,as well as externally, in terms of the images we create and the teams that create it.
As an industry, we talk about brand love and all that goes into it. We understand the importance of trust and consumer self-love and esteem. We have yet, however, to lean in to Black love—and by extension BIPOC love—not just through all-too-often performative gestures that suggest we are allies or anti-racist, but by putting Black love at the center of the work. That’s the level of representation and respect required to truly celebrate and not just tolerate the power of DE&I.
It’s not just time to have our brands invite Black consumers to love them. That’s easy. Like Booker said of America, it’s time to love Black consumers back and one of the truest tests of that is to create space for Black love to flourish on big screens and small—and in live experiential contexts as well. And to do so for all to see.
Recently, the quintessential American fashion brand Ralph Lauren launched a collection in collaboration with HBCU’s Morehouse and Spelman. As Cole Brown wrote in his GQ article, it acknowledges that “Black history and American history are one.” He also calls the capsule collection “a long-overdue embrace.”
To be clear, when I speak about Black love, it’s easy to think about the use of interracial couples in advertising and to question whether or not that is a form of invoking Black identity without embracing Black love. Once again, we can turn to Ketanji Brown Jackson who models an interracial relationship and Black love co-existing, because the essence of this concept—a concept rooted in resistance—is so much greater than couplehood, marriage or familiar love.
Black love is about the deepest understanding of identity, esteem, creativity, vision, vibrancy, survival, resilience, perseverance, joy and optimism. It is self-love and community love and ancestor love and future love as evidenced in Afrofuturism. And it is essential to the storytelling that the advertising industry needs to do in order to demonstrate that all Americans are truly, deeply and emotionally reflected in this powerful industry of images and societal norm-setting. This cannot be accomplished just via casting or speaker series or diversifying panels, but in ways that elicit that Cory Booker moment—in ways that fill us with emotion because we understand we’re reaching our full potential, as an industry, as a nation, through the power of love.
In internet slang, the acronym IYKYK (if you know you know) sums it up. The three components of brand love are chemistry, needs fulfillment and compatibility. Brands that develop their internal ecosystems and external touch points with those components as a filter, authentically adopting and amplifying Black love, will stir emotions and connection that will be game-changing.
RSVP for Ad Age Next: Multicultural Marketing on May 9 at AdAge.com/NextMulticultural