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When Will Black History Month Stop Being a Marketing Hook?

Posted by Mark J. Miller on February 6, 2012 01:24 PM

This February marks the 36th annual Black History Month in America, and the marketing geniuses at Nike are showing that the brand's got the spirit by releasing three different BHM-themed shoes that are tied to three of their biggest basketball endorsers: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

Nike Blog reports that the release date and prices for the James and Durant shoes haven’t been named yet, but for only $140, fans of Black History Month can show it off all year long with a pair of Kobe shoes.

Of course there are plenty of other ways that marketers think you could be showing your BHM pride, too. 

And don’t think Heineken US doesn’t have the BHM spirit! The brand is sponsoring its second annual Black History Month art competition, which will garner the winner five grand and the opportunity to “have their artwork showcased in an upcoming marketing campaign” for the brewer, according to TrendHunter.com. We’re talking placement in national print, digital, in-store point of sale, and out of home advertising in 2013. And all you have to do to submit art is “like” the Heineken US Facebook page.

The judging of the submissions, of course, will be on originality and creativity as well its “representation of black history,” naturally, and, of course!, “the spirit of the Heineken brand,” TrendHunter reports.

U.S. cable TV networks (beyond BET) have long jumped on Black History Month for programming. This year, naturally, social and digital marketing is coming into play, too.

If  you want to go a different route on your Black History Month celebrating, “Social TV app GetGlue and A&E-owned BIO have teamed up for a new series of Black History Month-themed stickers,” according to Expanded Ramblings. Viewers can earn each of the 29 stickers by checking out the site daily. The idea, of course, is to promote BIO's series of profiles on prominent modern-day African-Americans.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola is going the corporate citizenship route. The beverage giant has lined up with celebrities to launch a new Black History Month program urging African Americans to ‘Pay it Forward’ to the next generation.” Some of the celebs involved include  Grammy Award winner and philanthropist Ne-Yo, fashion designer Tracy Reese and Essence president Michelle Ebanks.

“‘Coca-Cola Pay It Forward’ charges each of us with the responsibility to advance the next generation,” stated Kimberly Paige, assistant vice president, African American Marketing Group, Coca-Cola North America, in a press release.

The idea is for adults to help youth this month by “mentoring; offering inspirational words; helping with homework; and exposing him or her to different career opportunities.” In other words, inspire and engage young minds, and then tweet about it with the hashtag #PayItForward. And it probably wouldn’t hurt if you did it all while drinking a Coke — or had good thoughts about Coke while paying it forward. The public is invited, by the way, to nominate teens for four apprenticeships that will take place this summer involving the celebs in New York or Atlanta.

Putting something of a damper on the worthy goal of "Pay it Forward" supporting mentorship and nurturing future leaders among African American youths: The co-branded Coca-Cola®/Church’s Chicken Bring It Home and Pay It Forward sweepstakes, a contest which is open only to legal residents of Alabama, Arizona, Missouri and Texas who are 18 years of age or older at the time of entry.

From January 30 through February 29, up to three sweepstakes entries per person (no purchase necessary) can be enterered for eight Grand Prizes (two per market): $1,000 for winner and a donation of $1,000 made in winner’s honor to a charity of his or her choice, subject to approval by Sponsor, in its sole discretion. (Approximate Retail Value: $1,000.)

Don’t think people aren’t quick to detect cynicism, or noticing how companies are piggybacking on Black History Month. “It has turned into a mundane, meaningless and commercialized farce,” a Huffington Post piece comments. The site notes that the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education conducted a symposium back in 1998 on whether Black History Month served a useful purpose or not.

“The introduction stated that February has become a ‘marketing weapon' for advertisers and book publishers to boost sales and then abandon them for the remainder of the year,” HuffPo adds. “There also are special marketing efforts made during the month of February for selling other products, like liquor, nicotine and sodas, to the African-American community, according to the journal.”

Tell us: if Black History Month is to remain relevant and vital, how can it transcend being a marketing hook to sell products to the African American community?

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