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Morning Brew: Why Black marketers are skeptical about brands jumping on Juneteenth

by | Jun 17, 2021

Originally posted on Marketing Brew by Ryan Barwick, June 17, 2021.


Last year, many companies started closing their doors for Juneteenth, a holiday that acknowledges the end of slavery in the US. So far, the list includes companies like Nike, Target, and Twitter, as well as creative agencies like Wieden+Kennedy, Mother, and MullenLowe.

While Juneteenth isn’t a commercialized holiday, neither was Pride, which has become a corporate branding-palooza since its start 51 years ago. So much so that it’s spurred New York City’s Queer Liberation March, an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist march that attracted 45,000 people in 2019.

“Pride wasn’t always shirtless gay guys dancing on floats sponsored by multinational corporations,” Michael Hagos, a creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, told Marketing Brew. Hagos is the creator of Queer Brick, a stunt that called out the “rainbow-washing” of modern Pride celebrations, and raised ~$25,000 for the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. 

Will Juneteenth become co-opted in the same way Pride has been? So far, marketing efforts haven’t been…great.

  • Old Navy suspended a Juneteenth campaign after asking Black influencers to purchase the brand’s Juneteenth T-shirts, plus lowballing them on rates, according to Fashion United
  • The NHL’s San Jose Sharks recently deleted a Twitter post that depicted its mascot breaking the literal shackles of slavery.
  • A Ford spot that’s been running since last week, made up of what looks like stock footage, also attempts to honor the holiday. 

Jordan Muse, head of account leadership at The Martin Agency, told us he’s “prepared to cringe” at Juneteenth-related marketing. 

“I think there will be some missteps for sure, he said, noting that the agency’s working with a brand on a Juneteenth campaign, although he declined to name the client. He also said the agency had told a client to skip mentioning the holiday because it “doesn’t connect with the brand’s values and behaviors.”

Even with a day off work, Juneteenth is more nuanced than other holidays. While some may use the day to celebrate, others may choose instead to treat it as a solemn day to reflect.

“It’s beautiful that corporations are raising awareness and acknowledging Juneteenth. My hope is that, while doing this, the proper work is being done internally to address, resolve and dismantle racist structures, unconscious biases and harmful stereotypes which are often perpetuated in corporate environments and actively keep Black people from progress beyond mid-level positions,” Brii Williams, a social media strategist at MullenLowe, told Marketing Brew.

It’s a delicate balance for a brand to raise awareness for a societal issue, earn credibility, and reap the rewards. Notably, consumers aren’t impressed with the promises made in the wake of last summer.

“We need more awareness…but brands are jumping on Juneteenth just because they see the opportunity,” Corean Canty, chief operating officer atWe Are Rosie, a marketing and networking organization, told us. Ultimately, she thinks it comes down to whether or not a brand’s strategy is authentic. “Are you actually connecting with that audience before you even develop the campaign? Who’s sitting at the table? Who’s making the decision?” Canty asked.