February (aka Black History Month) is over, and for many corporations so is the catering used to attract Black consumers and their allies.
However, Black consumers and business owners have thoughts on what should happen for the other 11 months of the year.
“I don’t think Black history should be just Black History Month, of course, like we’re always going to be here, we don’t just appear in February,” said Winnipeg fashionista-turned burgeoning street-wear entrepreneur Kerry-Ann (NuhMannaz) Thompson.
“Don’t just use Black History Month to drive more sales to your business just because it’s fitting at that time, you know?”
Kristian Moyo, managing partner of Rosewood Innovation, a global management consulting firm, agrees.
“When your marketing only speaks to a specific type of consumer one month out of the year … what’s going on in the other 11 months? What happens in March?”
Thompson believes that companies vying for her business would be better served if initiatives went further than February ad campaigns.
“You see, like Nike, they’ll do things for communities and, you know, helping [the] homeless and kids in the hospitals and stuff like that. It’s like they’ve been, like, paving the way like apart from just being Black history and [using] a Black man.”
Black consumers represent $300 billion a year to companies, according to McKinsey and Co., a global management consulting firm.
Some of America’s top brands pledged $50 billion toward racial equity following George Floyd’s murder, according to a study by Creative Investment Research. It has consumers and business people alike wondering where these corporations are coming from and what their motives are.
“It’s a fine line between marketing and pandering,” said Moyo, who lives in both Winnipeg and the U.S.
Previously, Black people were not considered a profitable demographic for many corporations and were largely left out of advertising — except for mammy caricatures such as Aunt Jemima.
In the 1960s and 1970s, cigarette companies such as R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. began including Black people in their advertisements for their Newport brand of mentholated cigarettes. Other firms began to follow suit, the ads tapping into the social movements of the times.
Some ads worked and many others demonstrated how little their creators understood about their target demographic.
Moyo sees the same thing happening today.
“If you don’t have a diverse executive or project leader or project campaign manager, the marketing can come off disingenuous and, I mean, for a publicly traded company that could take two per cent or 10 per cent off of your market cap in a day. And these are things that companies care about.”
As someone just beginning to grow her brand, Thompson says she would prefer that advertising companies mentor Black people to achieve their dreams rather than just sell them a corporate, ill-informed version of what they perceive their dreams to be in advertisements.
“Are people going to be willing to mentor them and say, ‘Hey, this is how I started. You don’t have to go through the same, you know, obstacles that I did here. Let me clear a little bit of the path for you, but you have to put in the work yourself, right?'”
Thompson also thinks that it’s not just Black people who need this type of support.
“I wish there was more in the community where Black kids, Asian kids, white kids, whoever like to go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of doing this. Can I come to you as my mentor? Can you teach me how to be this person?’ You know, so I feel like we need a little bit more of that.”
Moyo says that sentiments without action lead to suspicion at best and public relations nightmares and tanking bottom lines at worst.
In his view the best way to plan for an action is to set a target. He uses COVID-19 as an example.
“We all see how fast things can move. So it’s like, do you think this is as important as that or not? If you don’t, it’s fine. But don’t tell me you think it is and don’t do anything about it … that’s not going to sway me as a consumer.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.