Story at a glance

  • As the first of February approaches, so does the start of Black History Month, which celebrates the contributions of black Americans.
  • Brands have sometimes made missteps during this annual observance.
  • This year has seen some exciting campaigns already.

This Saturday marks the first day of Black History Month, a time to reflect on all the contributions black Americans have made throughout U.S. history. It’s also a time to celebrate, as schools and communities come together to commemorate the culture, history and achievements of black Americans. 

The expectation of young consumers

How we as individuals and professionals might choose to celebrate Black History Month this year isn’t just driven by intensifying racial polarization or the increasingly public nature of our lives due to social media — it’s both of those things and so much more. It’s a time when brands, celebrities and politicians are expected to take a decisive stance on key issues, and that includes diversity and representation.

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You might be seeing an increasing number of headlines about big brands launching products and campaigns in support of Pride or Black History Month, and that’s because young consumers expect it and demand it, with some 58 percent saying a brand's association with a social cause or platform impacts their likelihood of purchasing its products. A research study by  even showed that brands consumers see as having a positive impact grow at twice the rate of other brands. 

Hits and misses

Now equipped with this information, brands have scrambled to throw together marketing materials to show their support for various causes with hit or miss results. Last year, popular ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s released a Justice ReMix’d flavor, “the flavor and action campaign dedicated to criminal justice reform,” according to their site. More than just selling a woke, delicious frozen confection, Ben & Jerry’s took their campaign a step further, spending $1.2M on Facebook ads to promote criminal justice reform and support the efforts of organizations like Color of Change. They showed their commitment to the cause, proving that they weren’t just in it for the progressive pats on the back.

A facepalm moment came from sports brand Adidas, which released a Black History Month collection last year that confusingly included an all-white shoe called “Ultraboost Uncaged.” Backlash on social media was swift, forcing the brand to release a statement saying that “toward the latter stages of the design process we added a running shoe to the collection that we later felt did not reflect the spirit or philosophy of how Adidas believes we should recognize and honor Black History Month,” the statement read. “After careful consideration, we have decided to withdraw the product from the collection.”

Successful brand campaigns show that the company does in fact care and is not attempting to capitalize on a month devoted to celebrating black culture to sell their product.

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This year we’re calling attention to some of the brands that already seem to be doing it right.

Google

This Sunday during the 2020 Grammy Awards Google launched their #TheMostSearched campaign. The interactive web page and promotional video were created in honor of Black History Month, “celebrating the icons and moments that have been searched more than any others in the United States,” according to their page.

The list includes everything from the most searched female poet (Maya Angelou) to the most searched gymnast (Simone Biles) and the most searched speech (“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.). The superlatives were designated by data, gathered by identifying black achievements that were most searched between Jan. 1, 2004 and July 1, 2019.

Their emotional, inspiring ad also speaks to Google’s larger initiative, in which their nonprofit arm plans to support NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) with a $3 million grant. 

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ACT-SO has already created an opportunity for more than 300,000 black high school students to build a future in STEM. In 2018, Google.org also committed $25 million to help black and Latino students build successful futures.

Apple

If you’ve never heard of or attended a Today at Apple session, now’s your chance. These creative and educational workshops are offered for free in Apple stores throughout the country, curated with the goal of educating and inspiring customers to go further with their passions and the products they love.

Apple is celebrating Black History Month starting Feb. 1 with a special lineup of more than 40 Today at Apple sessions in seven flagship stores in major cities. This year’s lineup highlights creators shaping new cultural narratives through visual arts, photography, poetry, dance, film and other mediums according to 9to5Mac.

The initiative not only gives a platform to black Americans with amazing skills, but also offers customers a chance to learn new skills through hands-on lessons from experts. The lineup kicks off with visual artist and print designer Ebony Bolt, who designed the cover art for the Black History Month session. She’ll be sharing her creative journey at Apple Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y., and will demonstrate how to make one of her design templates on iPad with an Apple Pencil.

Macy’s

Retail giant Macy’s will showcase Black History Month-themed windows throughout February in most major cities. The windows were created in partnership with artist Lisa Hunt.

“My work explores the spatial and meditative relationships found within repeat patterns," says Hunt. "The windows are expressed with a minimalist approach inspired by Art Deco, traditional African and Eastern textiles comprised of graphic shapes, symbols, and re-imagined typographic elements. The screen-printed patterns employ an aesthetic use of gold leaf as a nod to its adorning use throughout art history."

ONYX, Macy’s black employee resource group, was instrumental in developing the retailer’s campaign, including the theme, display windows and volunteer opportunities across the country. Throughout the campaign, Macy’s will contribute a total of $10,000 to charitable organizations, such as Jerry Rice’s 127 Foundation and local Urban Leagues.

Published on Jan 29, 2020