Black History Month marked the beginning of U.S. heritage months. When observed authentically, these months can celebrate a community. On the other hand, when observed inauthentically, they can be performative, misrepresentative, ignorant, and—oftentimes—offensive.
To discuss the role of brand in observing heritage months throughout the year, we asked several of our expert brand builders, “How should brands honor heritage months?”
Below, referencing a variety of U.S. heritage months, our practitioners explore how to balance authenticity with action.
“It’s that time of year again. Black History Month. Brands think, “We have to prove we’re aligned with modern inclusive values. Quick post this. Quick film that. Quick build a campaign that shows we get it.” Every year, well-intended brands rally their creative forces to honor the heritage of African Americans, and yet the timing of these efforts begs the question, “Where’s the shout-out and support the rest of the year?” True support is real, tangible action—beyond marketing campaigns, products, or sales. Brands that provide a platform for and give power to individuals to express themselves through honest storytelling find simple success. Gap did this effortlessly, year-round, with their 2021 INDIVIDUALS campaign. It featured notable voices in the DEI space and offered a perspective into what representation is, means, and will be in the future. So if you’re a brand that wants to make a statement, offer up your brand’s platform instead and support the communities you wish to reach.”
Nijel Taylor, Design Director
“Heritage months are an opportunity for each of us to learn more about others, as well as ourselves. We all share this world. As we celebrate heritage, we must also examine where we differ and where we intersect, in order to develop compassion and empathy for all members of our global community—and that starts with awareness and knowledge.
Netflix did their part in empowering this when they launched a hub for AAPI films and series during 2021’s AAPI Heritage month, which helped to elevate a diversity of AAPI narratives and cultural viewpoints.”
Amy Chen, Associate Director, Experience
“Heritage months are opportunities to celebrate the contributions of a cultural group, and to center the unique perspectives and experiences that come from within that group. The simplest way for a brand to celebrate these months and honor the cultural groups is to offer its stage. Working to elevate voices of the celebrated community is a first step. The next step is building and sustaining those relationships according to the wishes of those community members.
The goal is to actively listen to the celebrated community, and to invite your audience to the ongoing efforts that are born from those new relationships.”
Kamilah Nall, Associate Naming Strategist
“To honor is to hold in high regard, show respect or affection. But we often see brands using these months simply to check a box in their inclusivity list or for monetary gains. Here are two ways I would love to see brands honor Heritage Months:
Time: Learn about their past, seek contemporary voices in the community, and imagine the future you want to create together.
Actions: Don’t just celebrate the chosen months, but let your actions motivate and inspire others throughout the year.
Let Heritage Months be more than a twitted quote from the past this year.”
Jaslin Tonton, Senior Interactive Designer
“Brands should honor heritage months by amplifying the voices and achievements of their diverse talent base. Sometimes, it feels that heritage months are just becoming commercialized by big business; instead, it should be a time where the people who make your brand stand out have the opportunity the be recognized. The NBA is one brand getting it right! By having a global presence and diverse talent and fans, the NBA has capitalized on raising awareness and support for communities. By focusing celebrations on local businesses, artists/performers, activists, and talented professionals, the NBA gives a voice during heritage months to recognize and promote the diversity around them.”
Mario Berkeley, Associate Naming Strategist
“Nuance should be top of mind for brands when celebrating heritage months and events. Heritage months are incredibly broad, and inclusivity can be tricky. Take Lunar New Year. While referred to simply as the New Year in Asia, it’s been popularized as Chinese New Year in the United States, excluding many other Asian cultures that alsocelebrate “Chinese” New Year. This example illustrates what can go wrong when, under the guise of inclusivity, you don’t consider nuance. A specific application of nuance for heritage months to consider is that they are an American phenomenon. Brands should recognize that highlighting X-American heritage can look drastically different from highlighting X heritage.”
Grace Chen, Associate Strategist, Naming
“There’s no shortage of demands for our attention, so when it comes to observing heritage months, make a plan that’ll move the needle for your audiences and execute, or don’t bother. Box-checking with content that’s lackluster or indistinguishable from competitors—whether for market-share or mind-share—adds “noise” without adding value.
Consulting firm Booz Allen provides an example of how to do it right, by increasing the tempo and specificity of year-round strategic DEIB-focused communications and events during Black History Month. Their Unstoppable Together summit for promoting equity takes place annually in February, generating content put to good use all year.”
Derrick Mead, Director, Brand Communication
“When honoring heritage months, brands should lead with authenticity, make measurable commitments to the community it is honoring internally and externally, and continue to amplify these voices consistently.
Sephora is an example of this. The brand acknowledged how racial bias negatively impacts store experience, implemented changes internally and externally to address racial discrimination, and set a goal to increase the number of black-owned brands available. The brand’s “Black Beauty is Beauty” initiative and its amplification of black individuals in the beauty space during Black History Month are also examples of Sephora consistently and authentically working to honor black heritage.”
Ayesha Ewing, Marketing Coordinator
“As brand builders, we work to define personalities for a brand to exemplify. How should they look, what should they say, how should they act? The goal is to make the brands more human—to personify them. Heritage months offer an opportunity for brands to share their point of view, values and beliefs to connect with audiences in a more personal, human way.
One great example of a brand who consistently gets it right in their observance of heritage months is IBM. The logo treatment of adopting colors such as red, black and green during Black History Month is not only a signal of their allyship, but also an invitation into the work they do year round to maintain their commitment to diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging.”
Clinton Clarke, Digital Creative Director
“If a brand chooses to honor any heritage month, they need to be sure that their past actions don’t fly in the face of the cause. For example, a recent study showed that in 2021, twenty-five brands with Pride campaigns collectively donated more than $10 million to politicians who pushed anti-gay legislation. If brands are truly going to walk the talk, start internally: build a diverse workforce and establish corporate policies to ensure management supports a safe and supportive environment for employees. And then use corporate clout to enact broader changes for the community.”
Daniel Alonso, Content Marketing Manager