Thought Leadership

Did brands do enough to mark Black History Month?

As Black History Month draws to a close, industry leaders share their thoughts on brand involvement

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Each year Black History Month serves as an opportunity to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage and culture. Where the school curriculum and the history books often fail to acknowledge the significance of Black History particularly in the UK, the month provides a moment of education and celebration.

Brands have long been criticised for inauthentically engaging in diversity and inclusion initiatives without any real substance. While concerns over cancel culture has seen many take a step back from saying anything due to a fear of getting things wrong. Yet, in a session on brands having decision paralysis due to a fear of backlash, Creative Equals’ Vino Vethavanam shared: “Progressive work is always going to invite polarising opinions and that’s a risk we have to be willing to take.” In many ways the threat of cancel culture is over-stated.

Undoubtedly it is important to look inward and invest in more long-term equity strategies to create a culture of inclusion before outward gestures. However, awareness and action go hand in hand. With this in mind as Black History Month draws to a close we asked industry leaders, did brands do enough to mark the month?

Myles Manyonda

Myles Manyonda - Senior Strategic Planners at Lucky Generals.jpg

Senior Strategic Planner

Lucky Generals

In short, no. In the UK, anyway. Apart from Channel 4, Virgin Atlantic, Sainsbury’s, and Bumble who consistently show up and show out, I haven’t seen any brands putting their stake in the ground in support of Black History Month this year. I’m sure there will be something about it on most brands’ websites, or there’ll be a random social post acknowledging it here or there. But sadly, these half-hearted efforts feel a little performative or tokenistic. As for a myriad of big brands doing a swathe of fully-fledged ATL campaigns, one can dare to dream. Now, it’s a different story across the pond, where big brands like Hulu and Nike have put some serious money behind their BHM activations. I guess in the UK, if you don’t have a brand platform that’s about championing the forgotten or marginalised, like a Channel 4 (Altogether Different) or Virgin Atlantic (See The World Differently), then you have little incentive to do anything? Not only is this a bit disappointing from a moral perspective, but it also seems like a missed opportunity, given the growing value of the black pound here in Britain. Black History Month was cool, and something worth backing in 2020 when the BlackLivesMatter movement was in vogue, and you looked like the odd one out if you didn’t do anything. Now, in tandem with the lost momentum around the BLM movement, brands have lost interest in celebrating the black community and the contributions they make to society and culture everyday. Sad times.

Marvyn Harrison

Marvyn Harrison, Belovd.jpg



In recent years, we've seen more brands acknowledging Black History Month, which is a positive step forward. However, it's essential to move beyond performative gestures and delve into substantive actions. Brands should focus on long-term commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion during October and throughout the year. This means investing in initiatives that support Black communities, fostering diversity within their organisations, and authentically representing Black voices in their marketing efforts. By doing so, brands can not only honour Black History Month but also contribute to lasting change and progress.

Mulenga Agley

Mulenga Agley, CEO and Founder, Growthcurve.jpg

CEO and Founder


Every year the UK and the industry celebrate Black History Month. However, this one month of the year shouldn’t just be an easy marketing tactic for brands to provisionally show-up and check their DEI box for the year. But yet, all too often brands settle for reductive events or activations that miss the mark due to their inauthenticity. For example, Amazon ran a poorly received campaign where it employed content creators who appeared to be largely unaware of black influence and heritage on history.

Often, it’s a case of saying less and doing more - do more behind the scenes to ensure that work and campaigns targeting a specific audience are truly authentic. If non-diverse teams run with ideas inspired by specific ethnicities or other cultures, there's a risk of subtle misinterpretation or an idea not quite carrying over correctly. The campaign impact is then lost entirely, and you're seen as just another brand that 'doesn't get it'.

Finally, brands need to work harder on hiring diversely through universities and organisations that advocate and promote underrepresented groups, and then foster that talent internally, instead of simply jumping on the blatant tokenism bandwagon.

Tom Ghiden

TomGhidenJoanLondon (2).jpg

Managing Director

JOAN London

The often-asked question on October 1st is how can, or should, my brand authentically celebrate Black History Month. While I’m quick to advise that brands that have achieved modern legend status represent their diverse audiences at all times of year - I understand the desire to represent the black community in October more visibly. 

For me, there are two fundamental rules to help brands be authentic in their BHM communications: 

"Pass the Mic"

Namely, when telling black stories, having representation in your team can ensure authenticity.  I’m not suggesting tokenism is the answer.  However, when trying to represent a community’s culture, and the ways your brand can genuinely connect to these moments – it’s always done best when those who can speak to their own lived experience are in the room. 

Recognise diversity in the black community

The black community, especially here in Britain, is not homogenous. It is diverse and varied in its own cultural experience. My lived experience is entirely different to someone whose parents are African immigrants, or the descendants of the Windrush generation.

So, while BHM celebrates all of these individuals, the best campaigns are able to accommodate & acknowledge their individual histories and traditions.

Tain Joliffe

Tain Joliffe, Diversity Strategy Director, RAPP.png

Diversity Strategy Director


Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other important social movements have shined a necessary light on social injustice, with the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis further magnifying inequality.

On many occasions, brands have been racing to keep up with shifting consumer attitudes towards these vital issues. Most brands’ attempts at being diverse and inclusive often unintentionally backfire, as they are unable to navigate the complexity required. This results in clichés and stereotypes being perpetuated, and customers are not only noticing, but they are also holding us accountable. As a queer woman, I know how I feel when I see brands clamouring to show up for my community during Pride Month, but where is their commitment to change all year round? This Black History Month, ask yourself, How is my brand showing up for the black community all year round? And not just in the lives represented in their advertising, but in the creative process, in company policy, and in the opportunities that are created by your organisation. When brands embrace diversity and inclusion and embed their practices into the fabric of their organisation and their communications, it can have a huge positive impact on brand reputation and customer loyalty! Because customers really want you to do better.

Dionne Maxwell

Dionne Maxwell, Director of Diversity, Belonging and Engagement, Jungle Creations.jpg

Director of Diversity, Belonging and Engagement

Jungle Creations

The misrepresentation of Black History Month is one of my biggest pet peeves and can steer brands in the wrong direction when it comes to acknowledging Black parts of world history. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the mass brand participation in the Black square, it seemed like brands were aware of the harmful narratives that existed for the Black community. We saw a mass adoption of the Pan-African colours and an increased recognition that Black History Month is something to be marked and celebrated. However, there was a distinct lack of historical representation amongst many brands and instead, it seemed like Black History Month had become just Black Month! There are so many reasons why this is problematic but I'll focus on the main one. Blackness is not a one month thing. But by brands focusing all their attention on Black campaigns that champion modern day Black existence or featuring current Black talent without any historical context, it sends a distinct message: that October is your month to be Black. Black History Month has the ability to really change the historical knowledge around the Black community and redefine harmful stereotypes. It would be great to see less performative campaigns done in October that could also be done anytime. And instead, for brands to really look at how the Black community has historically impacted their industry, brand or product.

Charna Walfall

Charna Walfall, Senior Marketing Manager, Good-Loop.jpg

Senior Marketing Manager


Are brands doing enough to mark Black History Month? The question itself is telling, as if they are only doing ‘something’ during Black History Month then the answer is no. It isn’t enough to change your logo or feature a black icon in your ads during October. They should be actively supporting throughout the year. Again, this is not just including a black face within the campaign. This is about investing in the community that they claim to support. Helping to break down systemic barriers and create opportunities and a level playing field. Using their platform and reach to address inequalities and being part of the change. In 2023 it is no longer enough, consumers need receipts of how brands have, and are showing up for the community.

Whilst many brands have a way to go, Doritos’ SOLID BLACK campaign is a leading example of showing up for the black community. Their SOLID BLACK initiative provides resources and a platform for Black changemakers who use innovation and boldness to drive culture and give back to their communities. Doritos in partnership with the PepsiCo Foundation has committed $5 million to black leaders of local non-profits between 2023 and 2025. Evidently shifting brand perception, resulting in consumers feeling like Doritos is a ‘brand for me’.

It’s not about brands trying to solve all the problems faced by the black community. It’s about being intentional in their support. Which needs to be done every day of the year and not just October.

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