Where are retailers on the Juneteenth learning curve?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/Bastiaan Slabbers
Jun 20, 2022

T-shirts, flags, decorations and party favors have all become even more widely available this year to celebrate Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday only last year. Not unsurprisingly, there has been some backlash to the efforts, as well.

The day commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans learned of their emancipation. The move to become a federal holiday came after corporations pledged to stand up against racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

Last month, Walmart was lambasted across social media for appearing to trivialize the event with its release of “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream.” The retailer quickly apologized and pulled the product.

Critics of those seeking to commercialize the holiday believe retailers and other marketers should either sell merchandise from Black-owned businesses or invest in campaigns supporting Black communities when recognizing the day.

“This is a serious and reflective moment — I am excited and grateful for the recognition,” Ramon Manning, chairman of the board at Emancipation Park Conservancy, a nonprofit, told The Associated Press. “However, I feel like it also brought back everybody else out of the woodwork who are opportunists more so than folks who are looking at the history of this country and looking at where a group of people have come from.”

Others, however, feel the day should be celebrated similar to the Fourth of July. Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City branch of the NAACP, told Utah’s KSL-TV, “It’s a jubilee, it’s a time that we can all come together and celebrate”

Regardless, many critics weren’t surprised at the commercialism because holidays tend to create selling and marketing opportunities.

James Monroe Iglehart, a Tony-award winning actor, told the Daily News, “Anything that becomes a holiday, anything that gets out in the public and becomes popular, somebody’s going to try to commercialize it. I mean, last time I checked, the word Christ was in Christmas, but we don’t hear much about that. We got Santa Claus and a bunch of other things. Easter’s got an Easter Bunny.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where, if at all, do you see the retail marketing opportunity around Juneteenth? What advice would you have for those planning merchandising and marketing efforts for the holiday?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I think there has to be a very fine line with a holiday, any attached merchandise and how it's used for marketing purposes. "
"This should be a celebration of the event – nothing more. No merchandise, no Juneteenth specials. Demonstrate your support by how your culture supports it."
"There is nothing wrong with having some tasteful merchandise to mark Juneteenth – especially if it expands awareness of the holiday and its significance and meaning."

Join the Discussion!

7 Comments on "Where are retailers on the Juneteenth learning curve?"


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David Slavick
BrainTrust

Take marketing out of the equation. Celebrate free will, free speech, freedom and weave that message and imagery to reflect on what the holiday is all about – emancipation. It should not be about selling something. If you can’t get an empathetic, emotional, emotive message from your ad agency then source your public relations firm to craft a campaign that isn’t tone deaf pushing ice cream.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

There is nothing wrong with having some tasteful merchandise to mark Juneteenth – especially if it expands awareness of the holiday and its significance and meaning. However, in my view, it is also important for retailers to use the day as a confirmation of what they are doing with both Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs and internally to extend opportunities.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Celebration and recognition feel totally appropriate for this day. If retailers can help educate and further the conversation about the day’s meaning, that’s a good thing. And, since this is a celebration, it’s entirely appropriate to offer products that celebrate the day and help customers with their picnics and events. As long as this is done tastefully.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I think there has to be a very fine line with a holiday, any attached merchandise and how it’s used for marketing purposes. To not take each segment into account (and see where it fits, or if it fits) leads to a tone-deaf message.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

This should be a celebration of the event – nothing more. No merchandise, no Juneteenth specials. Demonstrate your support by how your culture supports it.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Although it should, of course, be a cause of celebration for everyone, I suspect it will for a long time be seen as some kind of special interest holiday; and while this is sad in a way, it also allows people who want to celebrate it to do so without the intrusion of commercialization.

As for the recommendation to merchants, it’s a quandary: do too little, and you’ll be accused of insensitivity; do too much, and accused of exploitation.

gmkelly
Guest

Juneteenth, now that it is a federal holiday, needs to be looked upon not only as a time to celebrate but first and foremost, it should be looked upon as a time of reflection and education. That’s the first building block. To a further extent, the retail marketing opportunity is secondary to that which should be the primary focus in driving the commitment to social impact, corporate social responsibility, and more broadly, equity, diversity and inclusion. Show where C-suite executives drive that commitment to which their consumer base values and have top-of-mind concern for.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I think there has to be a very fine line with a holiday, any attached merchandise and how it's used for marketing purposes. "
"This should be a celebration of the event – nothing more. No merchandise, no Juneteenth specials. Demonstrate your support by how your culture supports it."
"There is nothing wrong with having some tasteful merchandise to mark Juneteenth – especially if it expands awareness of the holiday and its significance and meaning."

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