How Brands can Celebrate Black Culture

  • Uplifting Ads = An Uplift in Effectiveness
  • Investing in Breaking Down Stereotypes

Since 1976, the United States has reserved the month of February to commemorate Black History Month. There are many key milestones marked during this month, from the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Rosa Park’s birthday on February 4, President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, who was known as the Great Emancipator, and Frederick Douglass’ birthday.

Today, there are many brands that show support for Black culture through their advertising during February and beyond. At System1, we know that ads offer greater long-term brand building potential when they are representative of the racial and ethnic diversity present in the United States. Our “Feeling Seen USA” report honors advertising that brings diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to the forefront.

Uplifting Ads = An Uplift in Effectiveness

“Feeling Seen USA” takes a deeper dive into diverse U.S. ads. Of the 59 ads we analyzed, 26 were centered around Black stories and characters. System1’s Test Your Ad platform gives each ad a Star Rating (from 1 to 5 Stars), based on the emotional response viewers have to the commercial. This score predicts an ad’s long-term brand building potential. The higher the score, the more likely it will support profitable growth.

The ads shown to our African American custom sample scored a strong average of 4.4-Stars. This is a noticeable increase from 3.7-Star average that the ads scored when shown to the general population. We refer to this uplift in an ad’s score among a diverse audience as a “diversity dividend” – good ads often become great ads when they celebrate a specific community.

Adobe’s “When I See Black” directly addresses the Black community’s demand to see their lives, experiences, and in this case, culture valued. The ad spotlights the work of a dozen Black artists, with a voiceover directly laying out the sense of empowerment and authenticity people feel when they see art and design by and for their community. While the ad was a 2-Star performer with the wider sample, they weren’t the intended audience. The ad scored 5.7-Stars with the custom African American sample, an example of the “diversity dividend” uplift.

Meanwhile, Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” features a split-screen montage of sporting moments, a motivational voiceover and famous athletes like Megan Rapinoe and Colin Kaepernick, who are outspoken on wider political issues. These are controversial figures, though – the general population gave the ad 3.1-Stars. Among Asian Americans, women, Hispanics and people with disabilities, the ad did better but remained a 3-Star commercial.

With an African American custom sample, though, “You Can’t Stop Us” scored 5.6-Stars. It was one of the highest “diversity dividend” uplifts we saw when comparing an ad’s general population score to its diverse audience score. The proportion of viewers feeling “Uplifted” more than doubled among those who are Black, as this audience truly appreciates Nike’s strong stance and motivational message.

Investing in Breaking Down Stereotypes

Research released in 2021 reveals that nearly double the percentage of Black consumers (31%) compared to the general population (16%) believe that a brand’s commitment to diversity, equality and social justice is important when selecting a product or service. Data from Nielsen also finds that African Americans are more likely than the average U.S. adult to agree that “advertising on television (23% higher), radio (21% higher) and the internet (18% higher) provides them with meaningful product information.” Yet, the amount invested in advertising that focuses on African Americans is lower than their population share.

When brands make an effort to produce ads that feature Black characters and stories, it’s also important that they don’t just “check the box.” Representation alone does not make for a great ad. There are certain best practices that both brands and agencies can follow to get diverse advertising right. Going beyond stereotypes and highlighting authentic experiences is key.