February is Black History Month in the US. It’s a time when companies often highlight prominent African-Americans from throughout history in their marketing campaigns to show their commitment to equality and diversity, and woo customers. Alain Sylvain, CEO of New York-based brand strategy agency Sylvain, works with a host of marquee clients, including Blackrock and Google and says that while “a company’s ‘purpose’ is often bandied about like a jingle or catchphrase,” for it to ring true, “it needs to be in the bones of the company, in its DNA.”
It’s here that many smaller businesses do best. Last week, Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs featured two of the co-founders of Equiano, a rum-making company that donates 5 per cent of profits to equality and freedom projects. The brand is named after Olaudah Equiano, the Nigerian-born writer and abolitionist who was able to buy his freedom from slavery in the 18th century, in part by selling rum. The spirit, a blend made by Gray’s distillery in Mauritius and Foursquare in Barbados, is an Afro-Caribbean product that invites customers to consider the history of the slave trade and to know that their purchase will have a social impact in the process. “We’re trying really hard to make sure that we pay respect to the name that adorns our bottle,” says Equiano co-founder Aaisha Dadral (pictured, on right, with co-founder Ian Burrell).
And there’s another important test: consumers might be attracted by brands that seek to do good in all sorts of fields but, in the end, they will also want that product to be best in class.