Avoid Digital Blackface: Rules for Using Gifs in your Marketing

Lessons from a Digital Marketing Assistant Who Actually Does the Work

Freelance marketers, email marketers, digital service providers, virtual assistants, and small business owners, I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with you…but have been looking for answers and boundaries first… I finally have them.

If you would like to remark, educate and add to this conversation nicely and lovingly, please leave your comments.

Here’s the background: two years ago a business mentor told me as a white woman I am never allowed to use people of color in my gifs and educated me on Digital Blackface.

I was so grateful she alerted me.

She was referring to a gif of a Black woman “shhhing” the camera. I used it in a webinar show-up email sequence to show that I had a secret and pique interest in attending the webinar live. A common marketing tactic.

In my mind, the gif was unalarming and not a big deal. It was hard for me to understand.

But as I thought more, I got really confused about using gifs. When is it wrong? Can it ever be right? This blanket gif rule meant I could never highlight my fave Peloton instructors and give a nod to Ally Love or Tunde Oyeneyin. It meant that I couldn’t use gifs that my diverse audience would appreciate and relate to.

I want to be able to honor and shine a light on Black women too. That didn’t seem right either.

As a Digital Marketer, I use gifs for my clients on:

  • emails
  • landing pages
  • thank you & confirmation pages
  • social posts
  • Facebook comments
  • Tiktoks
  • Instagram stories & reels

Gifs are a great way to add personality, emphasize themes, tell a joke, and draw your attention down the page to important copy.

I love a good gif…. especially if it involves a cat, a unicorn, and a TV show I’m currently binging. (Right now it’s The Last of Us so all the Pedro memes and gifs.)

As a marketing & virtual assistant coach, I teach my freelance marketing assistants how to make gifs for their clients in my Gif & Sticker Making Workshop. And since I teach making gifs, I must know the rules and teach my DMAs (digital marketing assistants) because the last thing I want to do is come across as ill-informed and ignorant, and put my client in a position to become attacked, ridiculed, or perceived as racist because I was uninformed as a digital marketer.

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So when I met with Diversity Equity and Inclusion coach Erica Courdae at a Business Retreat in Richmond last weekend, I had a very specific gif marketing question for her:

Can I use Black women in my gifs? What are the rules?

Erica told me, do NOT use Black people in gifs if the gif is:

  • not the way you (or your client) talks
  • cultural appropriation
  • the target of a joke
  • demeaning
  • profiting off the language and expressions of Black people for entertainment

If you’re like me, you need guidelines to check yourself, contain your brain, and know what’s right or wrong.

I found Erica’s recommendations so helpful and felt so lucky to have run into her in person at this retreat!

Please bring this awareness with you moving forward when choosing gifs for social, emails, comments, landing pages, etc. for you and your clients.

Connect with Erica on Instagram @ericacourdae.

She has a helpful podcast called Pause on the Play and a free DEI masterclass to help you improve your diversity & inclusion inside your online business. If your client has a membership or marketing challenge, I encourage you to book Erica as a guest speaker to help educate your clients’ audience too. We can make a difference and pay attention.

I had this conversation with Erica just ahead of this CNN article:

What’s ‘digital blackface?’ And why is it wrong when White people use it? | CNN

If you’re White and you’ve posted a GIF or meme of a Black person to express a strong emotion, you may be guilty of wearing ‘digital blackface’ — a modern-day term for an insidious form of racism.

⚡Related Podcast Alert: Email Marketing Without Coercion

Tarzan Kay shares her story of marketing with an unconscious bias and how she tore down her million-dollar business to be more inclusive. Listen here:

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio

Diversity in your Marketing

It’s extremely important to me that I show diverse Black and Brown women in my marketing assets. When I build quiz funnels or sales pages for my clients, I’m conscious of the skin tones in my stock photos. One of my favorite resources for beautiful stock photos is Nappy.co. All of the stock sites I used give options for skin colors. I have particularly loved Jasmin Star’s Social Curator for this reason.

The Takeaway

As marketers, we have the biggest influence on what the rest of the world sees in visual advertising and content marketing. It’s our job to understand these DEI issues and inform our clients. We can do a better job of portraying Black women and being inclusive. This includes ages, races, body types, gender, and people with health conditions or impairments.

We have an important role and can be the person on our client’s team who can ensure that their audience feels seen.

We’re not always going to understand people’s cultural issues and lived experiences but as long as we’re willing to learn and research, we are headed in the right direction.

Please bring this Digital Blackface awareness to clients and your everyday client work and photo/gif choices.

When in doubt, leave it out.

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-Emily, Digital Marketing Consultant and Implementer

Emily Reagan is a mom of four, milspouse, freelance digital marketer and Virtual Assistant coach who has helped 400 go-getters, including military spouses, stay-at-home moms, and professional women learn in-demand skills and find flexible remote work as digital marketing assistants and specialists. She’s shared 2,000+ job leads with her freelance marketers & VA community.

Ask her any questions over on Insta @emilyreaganpr

“I help smart women learn the in-demand digital marketing strategies and profitable tech skills to get hired as a unicorn digital marketing assistant.“

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Further Reading

Pricing and the Value of Creativity

How to Raise Your Rates as a Unicorn Virtual Assistant

Virtual Assistant Contracts

In-Demand Profitable Niches for Virtual Assistants

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Emily Reagan is a jill-of-all trades when it comes to digital marketing and techie skills. She’s worked as a behind-the-scenes digital marketing implementor and strategist for a decade for online biz owner clients.

She’s a mom of four, Air Force wife, and founder of the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School, where she teaches smart women the in-demand, highly-coveted digital marketing skills to get flexible, online work.

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