Brands and Black History Month: A Weekly Look at Culture, Conversations and Content - 2.26.21 edition

February 26, 2021

During Black History Month, we’ve recapped the brand and company news and trends we saw related to the culture, content and conversations around this important moment in time. This week is our final installment.

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The Week in Summary

As Black History Month (BHM) 2021 comes to an end, we continue to see brand and corporate announcements about initiatives to celebrate and build up the Black community juxtaposed against a larger societal focus on inequities that still exist—and efforts to draw attention to them. 

There’s increased awareness and a call to action for corporations to move beyond using BHM as the only moment in time to highlight how they’re supporting the Black community. Opinion pieces warn of the dangers of commodifying BHM with potential disingenuous corporate actions. More than ever, actions are more important than words, and consumers are holding corporate America accountable. 

Other dominant themes from the past week include Black influencers pushing for fair compensation related to their development of sponsored content. After the events of 2020, many brands made an effort to incorporate more Black influencers into marketing campaigns; however, these partnerships are under scrutiny for lack of fair compensation, as influencers who don’t meet a certain volume of followers are sometimes offered in-kind product and affiliate links instead of payment. 

Conversations about financial support for communities of color extended to policy discussions. One of the most-shared BHM-related news stories in the past week was the White House’s decision to increase lending to small businesses in need, which included Payment Protection Program changes meant to promote equitable access to relief. President Biden also conducted a roundtable with Black essential workers to gain insights about business relief disparities. These actions coincide with news about Black-owned businesses being hit harder during the pandemic that continues to come up in BHM conversations.

Related to a tighter focus on diversity by governments, some states are recognizing the importance of dedicated management and tracking of diversity initiatives for their population. Indiana recently named Karrah Herring the state’s Chief Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity Officer. Indiana joins 11 other states with similar roles, including Alabama, Delaware, Minnesota and Virginia. Her role and others like hers focus on closing disparity gaps at a state level. 

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Cultural Landscape

Brands and Black History Month Feb 19 - Cultural Landscape
(Photo credit: Good Morning America) 

Today, intersectionality is everywhere, and the most-talked-about cultural moments and social issues are often viewed from multiple identity perspectives. Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality over 30 years ago to describe how race, class, gender and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. 

Looking to Women’s History Month in March, it’s likely many of the most popular stories will be under the umbrella of “intersectional feminism.” Trending content from this week highlights the social stigmas Black women too often face*. Examples include: 

  • PopSugar shared a photoshoot of Black women breastfeeding their babies, normalizing the practice and empowering women to feel comfortable feeding their babies wherever they want to.  
  • Variety covered the launch of “We, As Ourselves,” a new campaign aiming to change the conversation about sexual violence and its impact on the Black community, headed by The Time’s Up Foundation, Me Too International, and the National Women’s Law Center.  
  • Women’s Health covered the “wildly different” pain medication experiences of two women, where only skin color determined the difference. Social users are resharing the story, using it as the latest contextualizing example of how Black women’s pain is too often underestimated.  
  • Good Morning America highlighted how “Black women are growing their businesses even with the odds stacked against them, including everything from lack of capital and funding to biases and lack of representation.” 
  • Refinery29 video featuring Black women talking about how “everybody loves Black features until they are on a Black woman” is being reshared on social media.  

This week also marks anniversaries of the murders of two unarmed Black men whose killings made national and international headlines. Nine years ago today (February 26, 2012), 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch member while he was walking home from a local convenience store. And a year ago, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was chased down, shot and killed while jogging.

This week Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the three men who killed him. While Arbery was killed on February 23, 2020, it wasn’t until May that his death became a national flashpoint after a graphic video of the encounter went viral. Conversations continue about Arbery and his mother in hopes that the added momentum will help pressure officials to hold the killers—and the local police and prosecutors accused of covering up the investigation—accountable for their actions.

*according to Spike Newswhip analysis of the last 7 days  

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Corporate/Brand Actions

Brands and Black History Month Feb 19 - Corporate-Brand Activations
(Photo credit: Discover Puerto Rico) 

Although we’re seeing less coverage than the beginning of the month, we continue to see brands promoting special product collections, celebrating Black creators and unveiling initiatives to support the Black community. However, there’s an increased emphasis to discuss internal diversity efforts beyond just commemorative product lines—and why that focus is important.

Special Collections 

  •  Vera Bradley designed a limited-edition “Unity Tote” bag that celebrates diversity and promotes unity. The tote idea came from Victoria Williams, a Mississippi-based store associate, who suggested the idea to leadership and the company’s print design team. 
  • Dungeon Forward, a Black-owned streetwear brand, released a limited-edition capsule called “Black Artist Collective,” a collaboration with four rising Black creatives to showcase multidisciplinary art. 
  • OneUnited Bank, the largest Black-owned bank and only Black-owned digital bank in the country, announced the “Solidarity Card,” a vertically designed card with a Black power fist to “represent Black Americans and their allies coming together to fight for economic and social justice.”  

Content Series/Art Initiatives 

  • Discover Puerto Rico debuted an exhibit in Puerto Rico’s Casa Afro Historic Center, titled NEGRO, to highlight the Island’s important African heritage with a virtual tour available for global audiences.  
  • Cosmetic company Urban Decay is partnering with Black TikTok creators, using #BlackBoost and #BlackHistoryMonth to “show me you’re making Black history without telling me you’re making Black history.”
  • Capital One launched “Forward,” a visual and auditory installation at Capital One Cafe and branch locations across Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Washington, D.C., to “recognize the resilience, persistence and progress of Black Americans.”
  • Unanimo Deportes, a sports radio network, is highlighting stories about Afro-Latinx athletes and their unique intersection of Black and Latinx culture. 

Community Programs and Support 

  • Midwest supermarket chain Hy-Vee pledged 5,000 hours of service to nonprofit organizations across its eight-state region to celebrate BHM and will donate more than $1 million to organizations that support racial unity and equality. 
  • Nike is granting $1 million to Goalsetter, the only youth financial literacy program in the U.S. led by a Black woman entrepreneur, to “help change the way America educates a whole generation of kids.” 
  • Afro Sheen, a pioneer in the Black hair care community, announced the launch of its #IDoWhatIDo campaign, to celebrate the unique style, creativity and beauty of Black culture, while also partnering with the nonprofit organization, Black Girl Ventures, for a first-of-its-kind national hair care pitch competition for Black and Brown hair entrepreneurs.  
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Social Media Trends

Brands and Black History Month Feb 19 - Social Media Trends
(Photo credit: Mattel via Barbie Instagram 

Stemming from the focus on women of color during BHM, trending social conversations are championing Black women’s historic accomplishments and the importance of Black joy and wellbeing.* 

Black Woman “Firsts” and Historic Heroes 

  • CNN profiled how “Black women’s roles in the civil rights movement have long been understated—but that’s changing.” This week’s article kicks off their “History Refocused” series, highlighting little-known stories from America’s past. 
  • Content surrounding Ida B. Wells, a symbol of the civil rights movement, founder of the NAACP and a leader in the racial justice and anti-lynching movements, is inspiring online audiences. 
  • Ruth E. Carter, the first Black person and woman to win a Golden Globe in costume design, will be first Black costume designer to receive a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. 
  • Gladys West, the Black woman who developed GPS technology, is being celebrated online. 

 Promoting Joy and Wellbeing Among Black Women  

  • Top Twitter posts of the week about BHM contained bold, fun and celebratory TikTok videos of Black women confidently showing off their hair and nails.    
  • Social users are talking about Dr. Joy Harden Bradford and Therapy for Black Girls, which connects Black women to Black therapists because “feeling understood is essential to our healing, safety and the act of resistance that is Black joy.”  

Trending Brands and Influencers on Social Media in the Last Seven Days* 

  • Gold Bond partnered with Mary J. Blige to shine a light on the Black stuntwomen breaking barriers in the movie industry. 
  • Barbie, in collaboration with poet, artist and activist Cleo Wade, created dolls commemorating “the power, brilliance and determination of Black Women throughout America’s history from the past, present and future.” 
  • Madewell collaborated with actress Issa Rae on its new spring campaign, which showcases the talent of Black women within literature, fine art, music and more. 
  • Budweiser congratulated its inaugural UNCF Budweiser Natalie Johnson Scholars, a program named after the company’s first Black female brewmaster that gives students an opportunity to learn the art, science and business of brewing.  

*according to Spike Newswhip analysis of the last 7 days  

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Influencers of Note

Brands and Black History Month Feb 19 - Influencers of Note
(Photo Credit: Golde via the Kitchn)  

Trinity Mouzon Wofford (@trinitymouzon): Trinity is the co-founder of Golde, a line of superfood self-care routine products from face masks to smoothie boosters, now available at Target. Her personal ‘gram is dedicated to sharing a transparent look at entrepreneurship, documenting her experiences and learnings, helping more young people build, launch and scale their own businesses, and—of course—health and wellness.   

Elyse Fox ( Elyse Fox is a mother, entrepreneur, designer and mental health advocate committed to creating safe spaces for Black and Indigenous People of Color. She founded the Sad Girls Club, Sad Boys Org and Produced By Girls, organizations that promote community and provide resources for Black and People of Color to better their mental health. By creating an engaging, close-knit platform, she has been able to partner with brands such as Keds to elevate her online platform on Instagram.  

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Analyzing the Conversation

Black History Month Coverage Volume 2020 vs. 2021 

Year over year, 2021 saw nearly double the overall Black History Month coverage (12,400+ articles) than 2020 (6,900+ articles). This year, brands were more prepared with their announcements in honor of BHM, as 2021 saw a spike in coverage early in the month vs. last year, where coverage was more evenly distributed throughout the month. Consider pre-seeding important announcements related to Black History Month with media and influencers in the weeks leading up to February to capitalize on top-of-mind focus for this moment in time. 

Black History Month Coverage Volume 2020 vs. 2021 - Chart

Source: Talkwalker, analysis of high-engaging online news and Twitter mentions in the U.S. related to Black History Month for Feb. 1-23, 2020 and Feb. 1-23, 2021.

Black History Month Content Scope 2020 vs. 2021 

Topic focus in Black History Month coverage shifted significantly in 2021 compared to 2020. Coverage and conversations of brand promotions shrunk YOY (35% of total coverage in 2020 vs. 24% of total coverage in 2021), while coverage of donations rose 10 percentage points, from 30% to 40% year over year. These trends suggest that brands are recognizing the importance of backing up announcements with action, effectively putting their money where their mouths are.  

Black History Month Content Scope 2020 vs. 2021 - Chart

Source: Talkwalker, analysis of high-engaging online news and Twitter mentions in the U.S. related to Black History Month for Feb. 1-25, 2020 and Feb. 1-25, 2021. 

See our previous content from February 5, February 12 and February 19.

Looking for guidance on how your company or brand should turn your heritage month activations into long-term, annual communications strategies dedicated to specific communities? Contact your client director or get in touch with a Ketchum communications consultant.