How Brands Can Celebrate Kwanzaa with Authenticity and Purpose
Kwanzaa, a seven-day festival which was recently observed on December 26 – January 1, offers brands another culturally-relevant opportunity to celebrate and honor the Black experience in authentic, meaningful ways. A recent study by Public Policy Polling found that 4% of Americans, or about 13.4 million people, said they celebrate, or primarily celebrate, Kwanzaa during the holiday season. Compare that to a similar study in 2015 that found that 1.9% of Americans polled planned to celebrate Kwanzaa, and there’s evidence of a significant increase in its popularity. Globally, millions of people in other countries also celebrate Kwanzaa, making it one of the fastest growing holiday celebrations in the world.
Founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a highly regarded Black scholar and civil rights activist, the name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “Matunda ya Kwanza”, which means “first fruit” in Swahili, the African language spoken frequently across the African continent. Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to celebrating one of the seven core values of African culture, or “Nguzo Saba”, which translates to “seven principles”. These principles, in order, are: Ujoma (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). Each day, a candle is lit in observation of one of the guiding principles. On the final day, a black candle is lit, and gifts are distributed to family, friends, and colleagues
While most companies now embrace the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Black History Month in their communications plans, Kwanzaa — like the observance of Juneteenth, until recent years – is not on the radar of many brands who are unaware of its growing impact and observance in Black communities. Our agency has had tremendous success over the past 32 years helping brands acknowledge the MLK Jr holiday and Black History Month by creating award-winning signature programs and compelling storytelling that amplifies some of the great work they were already doing in the Black community. Now we’ve deepened our focus on Kwanzaa, given today’s heightened sense of Black Pride among an influential, empowered younger generation of Gen Z and Millennial consumers. We counsel clients to embrace this culturally-rich celebration with authenticity and purpose, based on a strategic approach that leans into:
Employee engagement is the first pillar of a successful, strategic Kwanzaa communications program. Before any external communications or marketing efforts launch, it is imperative to directly engage internal stakeholders. Don’t hesitant to conduct internal research that can be utilized to construct a campaign designed to educate employees and invite them to gain a better understanding of the historical significance of Kwanzaa. A company might encourage its DE&I team or Black Employee Resource Group (ERG) to incorporate Kwanzaa into their annual plans for heritage celebrations. Companies can utilize their employee communications channels, such as internal newsletters, the intranet, video boards, mobile apps and other tools to build a sense of community and reinforce their commitment to celebrating all cultures. When brands then activate external engagement, the company’s employees will serve as trusted, authentic brand ambassadors who are proud to promote a company culture that values and fosters a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment.
Sponsorships and Community Partnerships
The increasing popularity in the observance of Kwanzaa has evolved beyond family celebrations and ceremonies in homes filled with beautiful decorations, objects of art, colorful African cloth and fresh fruits that represent African heritage, to include more widespread community celebrations and festivals. Kwanzaa expos are held in cities all over the U.S., where dancers and musicians perform, while vendors sell Kwanzaa- and Africa-related merchandise. Community partnerships with organizations that uplift the principles of Kwanzaa create connectivity and build relationships that align a brand with the values of its employees and consumers. Through support for these community organizations, and sponsorship of Kwanzaa events on a national level or in key markets, marketers can strengthen preference for their brands, generate awareness for new brands, and create greater relevance for established brands.
The timing of Kwanzaa during other holiday observances has increased celebrations among people who aren’t of African descent, in the same way that people celebrate Irish culture on St. Patrick’s Day, or Mexican culture on Cinco de Mayo. Brands that have activated internal campaigns, developed community partnerships, invested in Kwanzaa sponsorships, and demonstrated an ongoing commitment to honoring and celebrating Kwanzaa can authentically engage on social media platforms. However, to avoid any missteps associated with cultural appropriation, it’s important to engage diverse communications experts to craft culturally-sensitive content across multiple mediums and platforms.
As more marketers seek to deepen their connections with the Black community, while reaching other diverse consumers, our agency’s goal is to work with clients to create unique, memorable campaigns that shine a brighter light on Kwanzaa. In doing so, we truly embrace the Kwanzaa principle of Kuumba, or Creativity, and adhere to its focus:
“To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.”
Michael L. Royston
Vice President, Integrated Marketing