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How Brands Can Celebrate Juneteenth Without the Cringe

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Most brands didn’t know about Juneteenth until a few years ago, but their Black consumers and employees definitely did. That’s why it’s important that brands celebrate the moment without it feeling like diversity theater.

In order to do that, marketers must understand why this holiday occupies a special place in our culture.

Juneteenth first came to national awareness during the George Floyd protests in 2020, which led to it being declared a federal holiday for the first time in 2021 despite its existence since the end of the Civil War. To their credit, many brands have attempted to honor it. But without the right context and intentions, many of those attempts have fallen flat.

Where many brands go wrong is treating Juneteenth like a secondary independence day. Yes, it’s sometimes called the Black Fourth of July, since it marks the day that the last slaves in America learned they were free, but it’s more nuanced than that. Along with the celebration of freedom, there’s an acute sense of the centuries of loss that preceded it.

African-American consumers want brands to be aware of Juneteenth, but not for the sake of making money. They want brands to understand what’s important to them. Here’s how to honor the day without finding yourself mocked on Twitter.

Start with your employees

Internally, brands need to engage with their Black employees genuinely and seek their input beyond this particular holiday. A day like Juneteenth should create an environment that shows understanding and inclusivity. Understand how their families celebrate—that way you are homing in on the real African-American experience.

Give the mic to your employees, and not just to show that you have Black employees. Invite employees to voluntarily share their experience, so that people understand what this moment means on an individual level. That’s an easier way to make sure it doesn’t feel performative.

Avoid commercialization

This may seem like strange advice to a brand, but don’t exploit Juneteenth for profit. We’ve seen when it becomes commercialized: People get offended, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t resonate, and it ends up on Twitter the next day.

Brands need to show that they genuinely understand and are celebrating in a respectful way. Steer clear of making a Juneteenth promo code for 20% off of all purchases. Consider the potential impact of your brand’s actions. Are you trying to celebrate or are you only trying to make money?

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