What do Gen Z and Millennials really think about brand involvement in Black History month? We asked them in a real-time survey…
It’s Black History month, a time of year that has become a hotbed of brand activity—for better and for worse. We’ve noted in the past that brands need to watch their youth marketing around this holiday, as Gen Z and Millennials are eagle eyed for campaigns that don’t ring true. Even well-intentioned efforts can get called out—for good reason when intention is overshadowed by the actual impact (or lack thereof).
After the events of 2020, young consumers have even higher expectations about brands’ involvement in the causes that matter to them. Our Not Waiting for the World to Change trend research found that brands are expected to make a difference alongside young people, and speak up about social issues. We also found that Black Lives Matter and racism are two of the top issues that Gen Z and Millennials think brands should get involved with. So what should this look like every February? We turned to our on-demand survey platform PULSE to ask young consumers all about their feelings on brands’ involvement in Black History month now.
We’ll start with the basics. Should brands commemorate or celebrate Black History month?
Overwhelmingly, young people believe that yes, brands should celebrate or commemorate Black History month. Several respondents did let us know in comments that there are caveats to this involvement, which we’ll get to. But first it’s important to know that Gen Z and Millennials are open to, and maybe even expecting, brands to acknowledge Black History month, in a meaningful way.
So how can brands participate?
The top way that young people want brands to celebrate or commemorate Black History month is to amplify the voices of Black leaders. Brands have enormous audiences, and using their platforms to call attention to voices that are often ignored is a powerful way to authentically commemorate the occasion. Uplifting the voices of Black creators on social media is also important, with one respondent saying brands shouldn’t just “take from black creators.” It’s notable here that young consumers are far more likely to say they want brands to take meaningful action, like amplifying important voices, sharing and promoting Black History content, and donating to related groups, than to want brands to merely make a statement on social media.
This of course follows the lessons learned after the Black Lives Matter protests: words aren’t enough, and young people want brands to get specific about the actions they’re taking to make a difference. When we asked what brands shouldn’t do for Black History month, many said that empty statements without action should be avoided. Just a sampling of their answers included: “Empty gestures like only posting on social media,” “make a statement that they dont back with action,” “Any sort of fake advocacy (posting a statement but yet not hiring black people as models, etc.),” “Make a blanket statement with no actions taken by the company,” “Post virtue signaling messages about the importance of Black History Month to gain customers.”
But that’s not all they told us. When we asked young consumers about whether brands should commemorate Black History month, their comments spoke volumes. One responded yes, and elaborated: “but really they should celebrate important historical figures of color all year.” And another explained that it “should not be specific to the month.” They are not alone in their feelings:
When we asked young people when brands should talk about diversity and anti-racism, three quarters told us it should be all year, far outpacing those who believe it should be during Black History month only. More brands are being called out for launching campaigns around Black History month and ignoring diversity efforts for the rest of the year. Young consumers look at a brand’s track record, and they want to see diversity and anti-racism as year-round efforts. Regular updates on what your brand is doing to make progress and fight for change aren’t just nice, they’re necessary.
Unfortunately, many young consumers feel that most brands aren’t living up to this expectation:
Over two in five young consumers say that most brands only talk about diversity during Black History month, and a third say that those who only address these issues during Black History month don’t really care. Responses to what brands shouldn’t do during Black History month also touched on this, with one respondent saying brands shouldn’t “Just post and do nothing the rest of the year.” There are plenty of things that brands can do to commemorate Black History month, but it should certainly be just one piece of a larger, ongoing plan for fighting racism and embracing diversity.
And what about what else brands shouldn’t do for Black History? Profiting off it is a big no-no. Respondents told us brands shouldn’t “Only make it about profit,” or “Use black history to make money.” One explained further: “I think sometimes it just comes across as a way to make money. Like during pride when they just slap rainbow labels on.”