Wyclef Jean has seen up close the devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Black-owned businesses.
The three-time Grammy Award–winning musician and founding member of acclaimed hip-hop group the Fugees said that his friends, Medjine and John “Jube” Altino, struggled to keep their business, Vibez Juice & Vegan Cafe in Jersey City, NJ afloat.
“[The business] started off real well and then COVID-19 hit and they were not prepared,” he told AdExchanger. “The first thing they did, like everyone else, was you shut down and figure out how you’re going to slowly open back up, and during that process the business started to go under.”
Luckily, Vibez locked in some help from angel investors and worked on a strategy to slowly reopen, a plan that included curbside and online services.
Still, Jean said he wants to see the business survive, and he thought of the many other Black-owned businesses – particularly friends who own music venues – that are also struggling or were forced to shut down all together. This holiday season, he said, will be critical to their survival.
“I was like, what about the companies that are not as fortunate,” he said. “You have to multiply that times how many people are actually losing their businesses, because a lot of these businesses – besides the online shopping – a lot of these people that I know with Black-owned businesses, they depend on a lot of that foot traffic too. That was a heavy part of their business.”
Black-owned businesses are twice as likely as white-owned businesses to shutter during the pandemic, according to a report issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in August, and an estimated 41% of Black-owned businesses were forced to close their doors between February and April, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses during the same period.
So, when Jean was approached by BBH NY President Amani Duncan to help advance a #BlackOwnedFriday campaign launched by Google in partnership with the US Black Chambers, Inc. in October as part of an effort to support Black-owned businesses disproportionately hurt during the pandemic – and what is expected to be a rough holiday season – the artist immediately agreed to create music for the campaign.
Google tasked BBH NY with bringing the jingle portion of the campaign to life, and Duncan said she immediately thought of Jean – who happens to own a jingle company, Sodo Mood Lab. The artist said he was eager to express his feelings through music and get involved.
“The concept behind this idea was rooted in music and we thought how cool would it be to take a nod toward the classic jingle and have the artist create these jingles as kind of like an ode to their favorite Black-owned business,” Duncan told AdExchanger. “I said I have something that only Wyclef can do … he is the most amazing creative that I know.”
Jean agreed not only to do the jingle for his favorite Black-owned business, but also to produce and write the anthem for Black-owned Friday. “He was the obvious choice,” Duncan said.
Google’s initiative reimagines Black Friday – considered the start of the holiday shopping season – as a day to support Black-owned businesses. The effort kicked off on Oct. 16 as a social first campaign, sharing stories of Black-owned businesses and encouraging followers to share their favorites on social media. Posts are shared every Friday and will be up beyond Nov. 27.
Google released its main animated jingle – written and performed by Jean and featuring artist Jazzy Amra – for the campaign last week. The tech giant launched Jean’s jingle for Vibez on Monday. The Vibez animated video went live on Google’s YouTube and social media channels for small businesses, as well as on Jean’s social media accounts.
Singer-songwriter Ari Lennox also performed a jingle about one of her favorite Black-owned businesses, Washington, DC–based Grounded Plants, set for release this week.
“For me, Black-Owned Friday was very important,” Jean said. “[Shopping at brick-and-mortar businesses] is one thing, but you know a lot of people are literally going to be shopping online, so it’s like how do we direct them to a lot of these Black businesses?”
Having a strong digital presence is critical this year and it’s particularly important to help Black-owned small businesses to be found online this shopping season, according to Google.
The company’s campaign also provides links to resources and assistance, and highlights a “Black-owned” attribute on Google Search and Maps that allows businesses to identify themselves as Black-owned and makes it easier for consumers to find them on search queries such as “Black-owned restaurant near me.”
“I always feel like ‘The Score’ is policy music,” Jean said of the Fugees’ acclaimed second album. “It’s always about representing those that are less fortunate. And with this COVID-19 and the idea of what happens on Black Friday and how people spend – and the idea of how much our communities actually spend – I was excited about galvanizing them on rethinking on the spending and saying look, at the end of the day, it’s very important, especially this time around, that you all support Black-owned businesses.”
According to Google, its search data shows that consumers want to support Black-owned businesses. By October 2020, search interest for “Black-owned businesses” surpassed 2019 by more than 2,100% in the United States, thanks in large part to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests over the summer.
“It could be the difference between a small, minority Black-owned business keeping their doors open and having to close their doors, which would be so shameful because America has the spending power – we have the power to make change and it’s through our dollars,” Duncan said.