February is most notably Black History Month. Every year, brands plan campaigns and other ways to recognize and celebrate the countless contributions of Black communities around the world. Black History Month is a golden opportunity to collaborate with Black influencers while also championing the Black leaders and employees within the organization who are making a difference.
But many brands seem to only celebrate their Black employees during Black History Month, which can feel inauthentic because it should be done all year round as part of an ongoing commitment to diversity – and not just a marketing ploy. This is only one of many cultural and historical considerations that brands should keep in mind in their Black History Month campaigns.
This article will give brands and marketers some inspiration, ideas, and examples of how to celebrate Black History Month genuinely. At the end, we’ll take a look at a successful Black History Month campaign for a real-life example of how brands can show true allyship and support.
Black History Month: A brief history
Black History Month, which is sometimes referred to as African-American History Month, began in the United States in the 60s. It was a pivotal moment for civil rights as Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and in 1969, students at Kent State University proposed expanding Black History Week into Black History Month, which began in 1970. Within a few years, Black History Month was being celebrated by institutions across the country and since then, it is now recognized not only by the United States, but also Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and many more places in Europe and Africa.
In North America, Black History Month is observed in February but in the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands (where it’s known as Black Achievement Month), it is celebrated in October instead.
3 reasons why Black History Month should matter to brands
For brands that care about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Black History Month can be a culmination of all the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as well as a chance to put their values into action.
1. It’s a chance to reflect on the success of your diversity efforts
Racial injustice has been an ongoing issue for generations but the Black Lives Matter movement has brought it to greater prominence as more Americans than ever are aware of these issues. Many brands have recognized this by focusing on improving their internal diversity to better reflect the population while also uplifting the voices that have been historically disadvantaged.
While fighting systemic injustice is a continuous work in progress, one of the most important things that consumers want to see is brands making a committed effort to do better. A great way for brands to highlight the improvements they’ve made in their diversity efforts is through benchmarking year over year. By using the previous year as a benchmark, brands can see the impact of the changes they’ve made in hiring and promotions over time and use it as a concrete example of how they are being more socially conscious and responsible.
On the other hand, if brands notice that their diversity efforts aren’t having an impact, or aren’t having as much of an impact as they want, it’s a chance to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate their strategy to hone in on what’s working and what isn’t.
Lessening the Black-White income gap is good for everyone
When brands pursue more equitable hiring and promoting practices, it can have a huge impact, especially when looking at the bigger picture. A 2020 study found that while Black American’s buying power was $976.5 billion, the same study also found that if equity initiatives are successful in lessening the income gap between Black and white households, “Black purchasing power could jump from $976 billion to a potential $1.6 trillion in the U.S.” (emphasis ours)
A report from McKinsey also echoed these numbers when it said the economic power of Black consumers could reach $1.7 trillion by 2030. This suggests that investing in DEI and recognizing culturally relevant moments like Black History Month will not only help brands be an ally to Black Americans, but it’s also good for business and the overall economy. It’s a win-win-win.
Plus, most people (particularly millennials and Gen Z) would agree it’s the right thing to do anyway. Which brings us to our next point…
2. Gen Z and millennials are the most diverse generations ever
In a poll, 38% of Gen Z and 32% of millennials identified as people of color. But even for those who don’t identify as people of color, racial justice issues have never been more openly discussed than now, and that is largely due to the popularity of social media.
Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to meet, interact with, and get different perspectives from people of all backgrounds on the issues that matter such as racial justice and the environment, as well as the cost of living.
Social media can help bring these issues to light when a hashtag catches on to cause widespread awareness and even inspire. And this means that Gen Z and millennials are not only the most racially diverse generations, but they’re also the most socially conscious and perhaps the most open-minded as well.
But being socially conscious and supporting diversity and equity can also benefit businesses because [57% of people say they are willing to spend more on brands that share their values](https://sproutsocial.com/insights/brand-values/).
3. Black influence: Originators and pioneers of global culture
So much of what people consider ‘American’ has its origins in African American communities. From rock and roll and hip hop to viral dance crazes and even the way we speak, Black Americans have a global cultural influence that simply cannot be ignored, and this is precisely the kind of thing that Black History Month is meant to recognize and celebrate.
Much of the popular slang that now dominates on social media can be traced back to Black communities. Terms like “cap”/”no cap”, “rizz”, “bussin”, and so many more have been around for years – long before it caught fire on social media and people attributed to Gen Z. There’s a good chance that any marketer or brand manager reading this right now has used at least some of those terms, whether in real life or on social media, especially if they’re targeting millennials or Gen Z.
But the issue of Black creators not getting credit or recognition for their work and contributions goes far beyond language and it even raises questions of cultural appropriation.
For example, Black TikTok creators went on strike in 2021 because they were not getting credited for the viral TikTok dances they created. At the same time, non-Black creators were blowing up with those same dances to the tune of millions of views. And this is much bigger than simply giving credit where credit’s due because the monetization of social media engagement metrics like views and shares means Black creators aren’t being fairly compensated for their creative work, either, which only adds to the insult of not being acknowledged or credited.
The more something goes viral on social media, the more the original creators get overshadowed or completely lost in the mix. As Erick Louis, a dancer/TikToker who helped kick-off 2021’s #BlackTikTokStrike, told Vox:
“Black creators carry TikTok on our backs. We make the trends, we give the looks, we are funniest – there’s no argument about it. But what ends up happening is non-Black folk appropriate our content, and they end up being the faces of what Black folks created.”
Brands should keep these points in mind when developing their Black History Month campaigns because brands are often held to an even higher standard than individual creators. After all, consumers believe brands should have the resources and cultural sensitivity to know better.
All that being said, Black History Month is still a great chance for brands to recognize that through genuine acknowledgement and support. Next, let’s go over some guidelines for brands so they can avoid coming off as cringey, out-of-touch, or inauthentic.
How brands can participate in Black History Month authentically
Now that we’ve covered a quick overview of Black History Month and why it should matter to brands, here are a few ways that brands can be powerful allies during Black History Month.
Highlight Black voices in campaigns
Celebrate Black History Month by spotlighting Black contributions and featuring their voices in campaigns to educate your audience about Black history and culture. There’s no better way to be genuine and authentic than getting the real, lived-in experiences and stories from the Black community.
Collaborate with Black-owned businesses
Collaborate with Black-owned businesses and organizations. Approach Black History Month with sensitivity and a genuine commitment to self-education for a truly meaningful celebration. We also recommend that brands highlight Black voices and collaborate with Black-owned businesses throughout the entire year because doing so demonstrates a long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion – not just when it’s trending.
Focus on the message, not your brand
Many marketer’s first instinct is to prominently feature the brand in any campaign, but Black History Month is NOT one of those times. In fact, doing so runs the risk of backfiring because it can give the impression the brand is trying to make Black History Month all about itself.
For Black History Month and other observances like it, brands should endeavor to take up as little space as possible to allow others to take the floor or proverbial microphone.
Black History Month marketing done right: A case study
In a Black History Month campaign for Intuit Quickbooks last year, we leveraged influencer marketing and social-first content to amplify a message of money transparency and financial literacy. But first, let’s see what it achieved for our client:
- 3M+ video views across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube
- 35K+ blog views in one month for the Black History Month tie-in article
- 37% customer engagement rate (which exceeded our client’s benchmark by 13.6X)
The Challenge: Breaking the ‘dont-talk-about-money’ taboo
Intuit QuickBooks wanted to raise brand awareness and promote financial transparency during Black History Month. But people usually avoid talking about money because it makes them uncomfortable, and so we wanted to address that head-on by normalizing money talks while demystifying money management at the same time.
The Solution: Bringing ‘money talks’ from boardrooms to social feeds
We devised a comprehensive social media strategy for YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok that spotlighted successful Black business owners and influencers, including:
We launched a new YouTube and TikTok series called Money Transparency where we asked them intriguing questions such as:
- What is the best investment you ever made in your business?
- What is a money fail that you’ve made as a business owner?
- What was the gutsiest money decision you made and how did it pay off?
Additionally, we created a blog article for QuickBooks that took an in-depth look at some of the biggest challenges the business owners faced. And when we asked how much money they had when they initially started, their answers ranged anywhere from $0 to $250,000!
Why Intuit’s Black History Month campaign was so successful
Due to our strategy, the Intuit Quickbooks campaign for Black History Month was able to:
1. Highlight Black voices: We achieved this by creating social-first content featuring Black business owners and creators that was then shared on Intuit’s social media platforms, which amplified their voices by increasing their reach
2. Collaborate with Black-owned businesses: the Black business owners and creators we collaborated with on this campaign were all successful entrepreneurs
3. Focus on the Black History Month messaging instead of the brand: we gave the Black business owners and creators the spotlight in social-first content as well as the blog article that subtly tied back into the Intuit Quickbooks platform
Overall, the campaign was a win-win for everyone involved. The featured entrepreneurs were able to share their experiences and promote their businesses. Intuit Quickbooks was able to build stronger connections with its current customers while also solidifying itself as a forward-thinking partner and support system for business owners of all backgrounds. Lastly, we were able to create a great case study that displayed strategic thinking and expertise when it comes to social-first, influencer marketing.