As February comes to a close, brands big and small have concluded the discounts, sales, and promotions they launched to commemorate Black History Month 2022. While these promotions are ostensibly meant to celebrate Black history, do Black people believe that the promotions are held in good faith, with the intention of supporting the Black community?

We surveyed 1,300 Black Americans to find out their opinions on the matter, and while the majority strongly believe in good intentions behind and outcomes of Black History Month promotions, a notable percentage disagree.

The findings:

  • 20% don’t believe brands have good intentions for holding Black History Month promotions
  • 21% find Black History Month promotions offensive
  • Large corporations and social media businesses are the worst offenders

According to Digital’s small business expert, Dennis Consorte, “Intentions and outcomes both matter. The Conscious Capitalism movement centers on four pillars: purpose, culture, stakeholders, and leadership. Within this framework, you can celebrate Black History Month as a company to produce both profits and positive social outcomes.”

20% of Black Americans Say Brands Do Not Have Good Intentions for Running Black History Month Promos

One in five of our respondents stated that they don’t believe that, in general, brands have good intentions for holding Black History Month promotions. When this group was then asked what they believe brands’ true motivations are for running the promotions, the top answer by far was to make more money (74%).

Other write-in responses concerned brands’ appearances and included:

  • “To pretend as though they care”
  • “To look supportive”
  • “To show ‘equality’ for 28 days out of the year but other than that, show no support in other ways”

“Most Black History Month promotions from companies big and small seem disingenuous,” commented Keisa Parrish, CEO and founder of Luebirta & Kaleonani Inc. “They are companies that all year long have nothing to say about supporting, recognizing, and giving back to the Black community. And February is the only month they feature their Black models in their ads or use their token black employee for show. We, Black people, know the difference. And best believe we are side-eyeing all companies that are putting on the show just for the month and go back to their regularly scheduled programming afterward.”

“In terms of a company’s intentions, I think it is difficult to establish that on the surface,” said Dr. Jovon Willis, a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies. “Some of this could just be about marketing. Research shows that companies who demonstrate that they are socially responsible tend to grow stronger financially. The truth will show in their Diversity and Inclusion data and initiatives.”

When this group was asked which types of businesses they believe lack good intentions for running promotions, large corporations were overwhelmingly the top answer (73%), followed by primarily social media-run businesses (32%).

“I believe Black History Month promotions are pandering to the Black community,” said Jewell Singletary, an entrepreneur, educator, and content creator who has worked with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York. “They come off as performative and disingenuous. I would love to see brands be more thoughtful in how they are marketing to Black people 365 [days of the year], not just during the month of February.”

“The biggest benefit is to the Black creatives/entrepreneurs that these brands choose to partner with because the individuals get more exposure and income as a result,” she continued. “ If these brands reviewed their ROI, I have a suspicion that they would see that Black people are not rushing to spend money because of a BHM promo.”

21% of Black Americans Find Black History Month Promotions Offensive

A slightly greater number of respondents stated that not only do they believe brands are being disingenuous by running promotions, they actually find Black History Month promotions offensive. 176 respondents (14%) say they find the promotions somewhat offensive, 56 respondents (4%) find them very offensive, and 46 respondents (3%) say they find Black History Month promotions extremely offensive.

Of this group, other write-in responses included comments like:

  • “Because there is usually very little truth in them or as usual there is always something stereotypical”
  • “Because it never recognizes hope for the future but only past oppression”
  • “They’re always generic and never thought out or meaningful”
  • “It’s just another way to sell a product instead of raising awareness”
  • “It’s an insult to our culture at best”

Dennis Consorte commented, “The key to inclusion is empathy. It helps to be mindful so that the likely outcome isn’t actually exclusion, and it also helps to craft your messaging so that it doesn’t come across as tokenizing. This requires one to be open-minded about a diversity of thought when it comes to sensitive topics.”

“To honor Black History Month, businesses must move beyond marketing statements that preach togetherness but do little to inspire action,” said Rousseau Vestal, a former Walmart cashier and current sociology student with an emphasis on Black liberation studies. “If brands are serious about honoring the Black community, their dedication must extend to all facets of their operations and become ingrained in their culture.”

“Black History Month isn’t a time to sell Black history-themed merchandise or exploit Black culture for political gain,” Rousseau continued. “There’s a thin line between admiration and appropriation, and businesses who cross it risk criticism from the same people they’re trying to help.”

Overall, Respondents Are Supportive of Black History Month Promotions

Despite the notable percentage of respondents who don’t believe Black History Month promotions are held with good intentions, it’s important to note that the large majority of respondents are highly supportive of the promotions.

“This year, I really feel as if companies really got it right because they didn’t just highlight our history, but they shined a light on young people who are trailblazers,” added Dr. Jovon Willis. “This is significant because I think we get tired of being known for the struggle. Our history is full of pain and trauma; we are tired of being reminded of it.”

In fact, 66% of respondents say they believe more brands should participate in the February promotions, and 85% say the promotions are at least somewhat likely to incentivize them to patronize a business. In addition, 93% say they believe Black History Month promotions are at least somewhat supportive of the Black community.

“I have mixed feelings as some [campaigns] are genuine and some are taking advantage of the opportunity,” commented Alexus Renee, a celebrity entertainment reporter. “We can speak on a conglomerate company that seems genuine, and that’s AT&T. We have worked with them for the past four years and they are genuine in their humanitarian efforts as a company supporting not only Black Americans but Brown, Asian, LGBTQ+, and more minority groups.”

“They have come up with a lot of campaigns and initiatives that show the company cares about the makeup of their organization,” Alexus continued. “For example, their Dream In Black campaign is extremely strong with deep-rooted messaging that spans year-round, not just February. I value more companies participating but don’t want it to lose its significance and become a part of the ‘furniture store sale cycle,’” she finished.

As more brands participate in Black History Month promotions each year, it’s heartening to see that the majority of Black Americans surveyed approve of their actions and support for the community. However, one-fifth of survey respondents think brands do not have good intentions for running the promotions and find this disingenuousness offensive. Hopefully, big brands and small businesses alike will take heed of this criticism and learn what they can do differently to support communities in the right way.

Dennis Consorte said, “As a brand, it is impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time. So spend some time talking about how diversity and inclusion fit into your core values as a business. Ask your customers how they feel about some of your ideas, before you put them in motion, and respond promptly and empathically to any feedback.”

“Also, expect that you will make mistakes,” he continued. “Unforgiving people are often the loudest voices. Hear them, act appropriately, and then focus your energy on serving those customers who share your values, and who understand that life is a journey that includes mistakes, learning, and growth.”

Methodology

This survey was commissioned by Digital.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish between February 8 and February 9, 2022. In total, 1,300 participants in the United States were surveyed. All participants had to pass through demographic filters to ensure they identified their ethnicity as Black.