Rachel Arndt
Rachel Arndt is a Marketing Intelligence director. Drawing on marketing intelligence data, she delivers custom insights by uncovering how brands are marketing—and what they should be doing to move their strategies forward.

Black History Month was a month whose midline was a Super Bowl during which hip-hop stars sang their hits, censored; during which one of them took a knee, drawing outrage from some while others barely noticed; during which the field said “end racism” but complaints of the NFL’s handling of race continued to flow. It was, in a nutshell, another Black History Month marked by many of the typical gestures and some newer ones. Let’s focus on the latter.

But first, why does this matter? When it comes to social issues, few brands are doing much that’s truly innovative. But by analyzing how companies are actually talking about their values, brands can learn how to stand out—and make a difference, both socially and in terms of customer relationships. Brand values studies are crucial for understanding how brands are connecting with consumers on a deeper level than products alone.

What better place to start than this year’s Super Bowl, which featured ads that were less about spending money and more about making it, namely through crypto investments. Some ads, however, were about less exhausting forms of technology: Take photos, for example. Google advertised Real Tone, a feature of its Pixel 6 that captures darker skin tones more accurately and brilliantly.

Source: Pathmatics

In a moving spot, the company let the photographed tell their own stories, coming into view in sharp, well-lit Pixel 6 photos as they spoke. This is the embodiment of Comperemedia’s 2021 Omnichannel Marketing Trends ‘Reasonable Responsibility’ which predicted that brands would embed their values in their products and services. 

Ubiquitous sports drink Gatorade launched a new campaign, “Fuel Tomorrow,” in February 2022, intending to “create more opportunities for equity and belonging in sports.” The company’s top-spend digital ad during February was part of the campaign:

Source: Twitter

Now that Gatorade has begun to get the word out, it’ll be crucial to keep the conversation going. Check-ins about progress, and featuring the athletes the initiative supports, would go a long way in showing that Gatorade is truly invested in the initiative.

It wouldn’t be a 2022 marketing campaign if there weren’t some NFT and metaverse-based references. PepsiCo’s Lifewtr updated its Black Art Rising initiative for the NFT age with a collection of NFT art, promoted on TikTok and Instagram. And Meta is hosting the “I Am a Man” exhibit in its Horizon Worlds social VR app. Meta bills the exhibit as “an artistic interpretation that pays homage to Dr. King, Rosa Parks, the Tuskegee Airmen and more.”  Meanwhile, CHECK, the company’s top-spend digital creative during February, promoted its Meta Quest 2 VR headset, through which people can access Horizon Worlds.

Source: Pathmatics

Outside the metaverse, there were lots of typical content hubs highlighting Black creators. These have become rote, but if a platform didn’t have one, it would stand out for its silence, so it’s somewhat of a catch-22 at this point.

Where brands can stand out in their promotion of Black creators is in the execution and marketing. Hulu, for instance, encouraged viewers to “celebrate Black stories 24/7, 365 days a year.” The company put paid media behind the effort, running ads on Facebook.

Source: Comperemedia Omni

Similar messaging appeared from parent company Disney on its Disney+ streaming service: “All year long, Disney+ features storytelling that celebrates expressions of the Black experience.” However, only time will tell whether these services continue to get the word out beyond February as before February 2022, no messaging about these promotions appeared.

That’s fairly typical, unfortunately. Once again, expect to see efforts that appeared during Black History Month fade along with the month, with many companies content to check another celebration off their list—that is, if they did anything at all. Paid media promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) related to race during the first three weeks of the month from top US banks actually fell off in 2022 compared to 2021, with only US Bank bumping up Black History Month-related spend year-over-year (for its “You are Black history in the making” campaign). On the one hand, this could suggest that this messaging is extending year-round, so there’s no need to boost spending during February alone. But it seems more indicative of a general tapering of Black empowerment messaging after the spike we saw around the George Floyd protests.

What we think

As consumers increasingly demand that brands share—and espouse—social values, this silence, both during February and the other 11 months of the year, will grow louder. Expect to see DE&I efforts extend year-round, with companies checking in on their pledges and putting paid media behind their efforts. And when they don’t, expect to see consumers call them out.

It’s a fine line between meeting consumers at their values and talking about subjects that have little to do with a brand’s overarching value proposition. But more and more, social issues are product issues, and it’s up to brands to show how their values naturally dovetail with what they’re offering consumers. Marketers can’t figure out how that works in a vacuum—they have to study the landscape.

How to do that depends on what problem needs to be solved. But it starts in the same place: Identifying the soul of a brand and the competitive context in which that soul exists. There are multiple ways to get there: Study the competitive landscape through an analysis of which social messages come through in which channels; Deep dive on a specific competitor to figure out how it speaks to social issues; Look at best-in-class brands in adjacent categories for inspiration.

No matter the approach, Mintel Consulting is equipped with the data, expertise, and strategic thinking to make sense of what brands should be doing next to strengthen their values. To learn more, Mintel clients should speak to their account manager. Everyone else, please get in touch