Brands and Black History Month: A Weekly Look at Culture, Conversations and Content - 2.5.21 edition

February 5, 2021

During Black History Month, we’ll be recapping the brand and company news and trends we’re seeing when it comes to the culture, content and conversations around this important moment in time. At the end of each week in February, we’ll share a summary of what we’ve seen during the week — delivering actionable insights for your brand.

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The Week in Summary

Black history is American history. This Black History Month marks the first since the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted Black people in America, and combined, unleashed a racial reckoning in the U.S. Centering on Black Joy – and celebrating Black culture and the Black community – is a predominant theme in how we approach the commemoration of this month. Brands and companies have a unique opportunity to authentically engage with the Black community while prioritizing their needs as consumers, and would be well-served to extend the momentum they initiate during BHM to a year-long effort.

During the first week of this month, we’ve seen brands and companies carry out some of the usual tactics: highlighting brands and products from the Black community and recognizing their contributions throughout history. However, the overall conversation is deeper than in years past, as companies are more focused on the importance of diversity and racial equity than ever before.

As the movement to eradicate systemic racism continues to gain momentum, we’re seeing more companies sign on to projects like the 15 Percent Pledge, a program designed to give products from Black-owned businesses 15% of shelf space at retailers. They are also creating their own initiatives designed to address economic disparities.

These kinds of tangible actions show companies are moving beyond statements of support and using a specific recognition month to honor the Black community. They are committed to delivering on their promise to elevate and celebrate Black Americans all the time. If you still have news to announce this month, make sure your stakeholders understand how it fits within your larger racial equity initiatives. 

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Cultural Landscape

Protest Sign: Ignorance = Violence
(Photo credit: Tori Kwan)

This year’s month of reflection, education and celebration of the contributions of Black people and the impact Black culture has made on society has expanded to encompass all the ways we can listen, learn and engage meaningfully. It also acknowledges there is still more to be done and that strides in diversity, equity and inclusion should exist beyond this month and throughout the entire year. Many influential voices are using the month to speak out about the need for representation and less silence when injustice occurs, emphasizing that Black history is American history.

We’re seeing companies promote Black creators and provide support to Black-owned businesses in honor of Black History Month. This all comes on the heels of fresh policy shifts from a new administration intent on building a diverse staff and promoting racial equity. Focused on a call to make equity and justice a part of everyday decisions and actions, President Biden reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility by rescinding the previous administration’s ban on diversity and sensitivity training, among other actions.

The strong undercurrent of Black History Month 2021 — 45 years since its founding and the first since the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police — is a call to reflect on our country’s current racial reckoning and the role we all play in advancing racial equity. For companies, that means moving from messaging to true action around important topics.

Brands continue to be an integral part of progressing the promise of Black History Month, which stands as a celebration of Black culture. Consider how your messages offer actions and solutions. How is your brand continuing to deliver on this promise of celebrating and creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive society? How will you continue to center Black people within your organizations, industry and beyond—not just during BHM, but throughout the year?

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Corporate/Brand Actions

Photo - Target Expands Black History Month
(Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Companies are showing up in ways we have seen before in honor of Black History Month, including unveiling limited collections and diversifying their assortment mixes for the month, showcasing special awareness campaigns and supporting Black-owned businesses.

What’s different this year is more companies and brands are using the backdrop of this month to announce larger initiatives to advance racial equity, including signing on to the 15 Percent Pledge, and sharing progress against larger investments and programs announced this summer following the murder of  Breonna Taylor and George Floyd last year.

However, companies should be aware of valid concerns over profiting from and appropriating Black culture and ensure any action communicated considers how they are celebrating and authentically engaging Black Americans every day of the year, not only in February. We’ve called out a few examples of brand actions below.

Limited Collections

  • Target expanded its Black History Month collection to include items from Black-owned businesses and those designed by winners from its first design contest for HBCU students.
  • Under Armour partnered with local photographer and activist Devin Allen to launch a limited edition apparel and footwear collection that celebrates Black culture through sports and the company’s hometown of Baltimore.
  • New Balance announced the “My Story Matters” collection of footwear and apparel that is designed by the brand’s team members to celebrate Black History Month.
  • Marvel presented a series of covers featuring their most prominent Black heroes.
  • Mattel designed a Dr. Maya Angelou Barbie as a tribute to her legacy as part of its Inspiring Women Series.
  • Old Navy partnered with Afro Latina designer Reyna Noriega to create a graphic tee celebrating women of color, the first in a Project WE series with other diverse artists.

Education & Awareness Campaigns

  • Microsoft created a free month-long series for K-12 students that brings 13 of the world’s top Black history museums to classrooms virtually.
  • YouTube will feature a new logo from Black artists every Monday to “celebrate Black stories, voices and culture that have contributed to creativity and innovation on YouTube and throughout the world.”

Black-owned Business and Community Support

  • UPS is supporting Black-owned small businesses with special designs on Express delivery packages as part of the “Proudly Unstoppable” campaign, which aims to “amplify minority voices while providing aid to Black-owned businesses through the end of the year.”
  • Postmates tapped The Weeknd to help them support Black-owned restaurants with a meal donation to healthcare workers.
  • Google is updating shopping search results to make it easier to find and support Black-owned businesses with a “Black-owned” label on product pages in its Shopping tab.

Larger Initiatives to Advance Racial Equity

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Get Inspired

New York Times: Do We Ask Too Much of Black Heroes?
(Photo credit: New York Times)

Content series have been another popular way to celebrate the powerful contributions of Black people and their impact on culture and society. We are seeing companies invest in content series that are designed to engage broader audiences in Black culture, history and the overall experience of Black communities. Now is the time to engage consumers in education if your brand has a meaningful, organic connection on the topic.

There is no shortage of inspiration; here are a few that allow reflection and education:

Black History Month: Top Themes on Twitter

On Twitter this week, a positive vibe dominated conversation around Black History Month. Take a look at the themes, hashtags and emojis that bubbled to the top of users’ posts.

Source: Talkwalker, analysis of high engaging Twitter mentions in the U.S. between Feb. 1- Feb. 4, 2021


Top 5 States Searching “Black History Month” on Google

Consider engaging a targeted audience in these regions where Black History Month is top of mind.

Top 5 States Searching Black History Month on Google - Chart

Source: Google Trends, accessed Feb. 4, 2021, reflecting data of the past seven days. Values are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100. A higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count.

Want to receive a weekly round-up of Black History Month culture, content and conversations throughout February? Please fill out our contact form below and specify “Black History Month” in Comments.

Looking for guidance on how your company or brand should intersect with Black History Month? Contact your client director or get in touch with a Ketchum communications consultant.