Advertising to consumers during the centennial celebration of Black History Month

February 26, 2015
4 min read

Black History Month traces it origins back to 1915, half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, when Carter G. Woodson, an African-American scholar and activist, and Jesse E. Moorland, a prominent minister at the time, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). By 1926 the organization sponsored a national Negro History week in February. As awareness grew, Black History Month garnered official recognition by the US government and president Gerald R. Ford in 1976.

Over the events’ lifetime, Black History Month advertising campaigns have presented brands with unique opportunities and challenges. If done correctly, brands have an opportunity to genuinely engage with Black consumers on a one-to-one level. However, if done in a way that’s perceived disingenuous, consumers are immediately turned off, sometimes from the products/service and/or brand permanently. Mintel data shows that six out of 10 Black consumers believe very few companies sincerely care about the Black community. Qualitatively, we know that consumer views about advertising during Black History Month are polarizing. While some appreciate the attention marketers pay to Blacks during the month of February, others want to see more and have a keener eye on what brands are doing throughout the year. As a result, brands that advertise only during Black History Month may not be seen as having a sincere commitment to the community. As marketers plan and finalize activities for Black History Month, they will need to keep in mind these two perspectives.

Two thirds of Blacks say they are more likely to buy products or services from companies that are actively involved in helping the Black community

Mintel research show that two thirds of Blacks say they are more likely to buy products or services from companies that are actively involved in helping the Black community. One such company is McDonalds who, in 2002, launched its 365 Black program aimed at celebrating Black history every day of the year. Since its inception, the campaign has included both print and online advertising, including a dedicated website ( The website was initially established as a place where Blacks could learn more about education, employment, career advancement and entrepreneurship opportunities. Since then, the program has evolved and now includes sponsorship of events in the Black community, including the Global Spin Awards, Inspiration Gospel Celebration, Essence Festival, CIAA Tournaments, and a few of their own like the 365 Black Awards. Advertising developed under the 365 Black program has garnered McDonald’s and its Black agency of record, Burrell Communications, several industry awards over the years

Coke-Cola is another highly regarded brand within the Black community, not only for product recognition, but for the strides it’s made in Black community development across the US. Coke-Cola recognizes how important it is to give back and help Black youth in achieving their dreams, which has inspired the program Pay It Forward. The program aims to celebrate and recognize both historical successes, as well as current and future achievements made by Blacks.

One of their more successful branding vehicles is sponsorships. In past Pay it Forward campaigns the company has teamed up with NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Black Entertainment Television (BET) chairman and CEO Debra Lee, multi-Grammy Award-winning musician, actor and philanthropist Common, and television/radio personality Steve Harvey. They provided young people the opportunity to shadow them during week-long internships, compliments of My Coke Rewards. According to Mintel data, sponsorship of events during Black History Month have the potential to be an effective way to reach Blacks. Four out of 10 say sponsorships get their attention. About one third say they remember the company or brand who sponsored the event.

So, what does this mean for marketers? Black consumers are far more receptive to advertising in general, and have a stronger preference for advertising that not only depicts Blacks in a positive way, but is also culturally relevant. Authenticity is very important to Blacks, especially since the majority feel as though very few companies sincerely care about the Black community. It’s important for marketers to make sure that their efforts are coming across as genuine, and that its commitment is strong.

Lack of cultural sensitivity can be a deal breaker. Although two thirds of Blacks believe targeted advertising has improved a great deal at depicting Blacks in a positive way, nearly half still believe that a lot of advertising geared toward the Black community is stereotypical or offensive. Millennials have a stronger opinion of this than any other generation, and are more likely than others to say they’ve stopped buying a product because it portrayed Blacks in a negative way. It’s extremely important for marketers to engage with agencies or firms that understand and specialize in marketing to Black consumers.

Tonya Roberts
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