It's February again, which means that it's Valentines' Day, President's Day and of course, Black History Month. What it doesn’t mean is that as an African American, I’m suddenly more apt to make purchases, but it often feels like marketers believe it does.
This circular from a Philadelphia supermarket offers weekly deals next to a picture of a young boy holding a drawing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the caption "Proud to honor and celebrate African American history, culture and achievements.” After a shopper submitted a picture of the circular to Gawker, the picture quickly spread across the Internet. Even though the original post has since been taken down, the damage done by the insensitive ad lives on through articles, and blogs on popular sites like Complex.
While this is a somewhat extreme case, using Black History Month exclusively as a sales platform can be a recipe for disaster. Even a brand with the best intentions can come off as condescending or disrespectful. Information spreads so quickly these days that a small misstep can quickly turn into a media maelstrom.
One of the things we’re always talking about around here is how the execution is the strategy. As marketers it's easy to forget that the people who are experiencing our work will often do so without context. The work should speak for itself. That seems simple, but it's hard.
Navigating these issues isn't easy but brands that rise to the occasion can really make an impact, in the right way, to the intended audience. One great example is the branded “Say It Loud” badge that BET is offering in partnership with Foursquare.
BET created a list called Must-See African American Historical Places In US, complete with facts and pictures for each location. The badge is awarded to users who like their brand page and visit one of the locations. They also encourage users to share locations that should be considered for inclusion in this list. This program as a whole allows BET to honor the history of African Americans in a way that no one else does.
Instead of being complicated or flashy, it is an unexpectedly simple way to provide a great experience on behalf of the brand. And not only that, it's unique. It just goes to show that the best ways to solve a complicated problem is with a simple solution. Which is of course really difficult to do. But that's why we're in this business, isn't it?