8 Things Companies Should Keep in Mind When Marketing to Black People

H&M screenshot
H&M screenshot

As much as I love seeing white people apologize for their white ways and lose wealth we’ve helped them amass, being the racism police grows wearying. And quite frankly, I’m tired of laying my favorite brands down because the dumb folks in corporate communications elected to take a college course on the importance of Star Wars instead of African-American history.


So in an effort to prevent us all from giving up any more good body washes, hair products and cereals, I’ve put together this list of Black Twitter-wrath-proof marketing practices for all those in need.

1. Lay Down Our Edges 

This one is pretty un-fuck-with-able. Forget the wardrobe and accessories—what’s sis’ edges looking like? If a toothbrush wasn’t involved in the making of the hairstyle, go back and try again (please don’t try to understand this logic; just go with it). If a proper gel or styling agent cannot be located, be sure to check with the model. Nine times out of 10, she knew y’all would get it wrong and likely has all necessary styling equipment in her bag, and/or has a homegirl around the corner who can be there in 15 minutes.

2. Racism Cannot Be Cured With a Kardashian

I’m sure the bronzer, large number of black men, enlarged lips, cornrows and build-a-booties would lead you to believe otherwise, but trust me on this one.

3. All Models of Color Must Maintain Their Melanin Throughout the Making of the Advertisement

It’s never a good look if a model or actor has to set aside his or her blackness for the sake of selling a product. FYI, I wasn’t speaking figuratively; I said what I said. If your model must remove, lighten or disrobe their skin, you’re probably going down the wrong creative path. Yes, Michael Jackson made it work for the “Black or White” video, but you ain’t Michael, and you dang sure ain’t Tyra Banks killing ’em with your shoulders alongside the King of Pop.


4. Don’t Exclude Us

I don’t care if you’re selling pumpkin-spice lattes with a side of cottage cheese out of the back of a Volkswagen Beetle at a Taylor Swift concert; somewhere, somehow, there’s a black person who may be into it. In many ways, we’re just like you, so don’t leave us out. The last thing you want us to do is play a round of “Find the Negro” on your ad. It won’t end well.


5. Along Those Same Lines, Don’t Assume We’re Monolithic 

So, you know how some white people like the color blue, while others prefer purple or yellow or orange? Well, it’s exactly the same with black people. What works for some of us may not work for others (case in point: the age-old debate of grits vs. Cream of Wheat). One size does not fit all, and one marketing tactic does not work for the masses—unless, of course, you’re Beyoncé, for every living being shall get into formation accordingly.


6. Don’t Try to Be Us

When marketing to or for a black person, it’s always preferred that you use an actual black person. Aesthetically, it’s a lot more pleasing.


7. We Give No Cares About Your Apology

The damage is done. The racism has been distributed widely across multiple platforms and we screenshot the hell out of it, so who cares what you have to say after the fact? I’m sure most brands don’t intentionally sit down and say, “How can we eff with the most historically disenfranchised and oppressed group of people of all time?” But unfortunately that doesn’t matter. It’s impact vs. intent, and the former overshadows the latter. If you have to apologize, consider issuing an apology in the form of more diverse hires and inclusive marketing practices.


8. When All Else Fails, Just Use the Honey Bunches of Oats Lady or Michelle Obama

We love the ish out of both of these women and would never question their judgment or discernment. If you’ve got a friend in them, you’ve got a friend in us.



SisterCarrie_not the other one

Companies can avoid all this damage to their brands by having multiple black folks in each step of the decision making. And I say multiple because it can be hard for POC to feel comfortable voicing dissent in a sea of white people without worrying about the security of their job. Also, we are not a monolith, as you’ve stated.