case study:

“While Black” Campaign with NYC Human Right Commission

Affirming the Rights of Black New Yorkers


Zebra was approached by the NYC Commission on Human Rights to conduct research regarding the experiences of Black New Yorkers with racism and other forms of discrimination.

The Commission wanted not just to gain insights regarding the challenges that Black New Yorkers face, but to also to identify what the Commission can do to be perceived as a trusted resource and to understand what might encourage someone to take the necessary steps to report these negative experiences.

Along with this qualitative research, Zebra conducted ad testing to confirm whether any of the proposed ad campaigns would increase awareness of the NYC Commission of Human Rights and meet their above-stated goals.

Our Findings

One troubling theme was the overarching feeling amongst participants that racism as an inevitable aspect of life in the United States. Zebra’s research found that racism is a near-universal experience, encountered in public spaces, places of employment and private businesses. Participants reported experiences as every day as being followed while shopping and as egregious as having their car searched by the police or having trouble finding an apartment.

Awareness of the NYC Commission on Human Rights was limited. Several participants expressed reluctance to report incidents to the Commission because they weren’t sure what would come of it. In order to file a report, they’d need to be convinced that the Commission would do something about it, not just gather information.

The winning campaign, “While Black” calls to mind the numerous incidents recently portrayed in the news, in which people called the police to report a black person who wasn’t breaking any law. The campaign affirms the rights of all Black New Yorkers to live their lives free of bias. The message is loud and clear: being Black is not a crime. Participants found the campaign relatable and validating: it shows that what they experience is really racism. However, participants still needed more transparency and information on what the outcomes of reporting would be.


Zebra conducted three qualitative focus groups, with a total of 30 English- and Spanish-speaking Black New Yorkers. A qualitative discussion about racism and discrimination was followed by ad testing of three potential campaigns. Once the research was completed, Zebra provided the Commission with a comprehensive report. Case Study: “While Black” Campaign with NYC Human Right Commission

The winning campaign, “While Black”, launched in March of 2019, in English and Spanish in over 1000 placements across the city, as well as digitally and in community media. In conjunction, the Commission released a “You Have Rights NYC” video series, focusing on real stories of Black New Yorkers who have brought their cases of discrimination to the Commission and received justice.

Zebra recommended the Commission create a Reporting FAQ page on their website to answer questions and provide reassuring information about what the process is like and what to expect when they file a report. Since receiving this recommendation, the Commission has created multiple FAQ pages, along with a video providing an overview of the reporting process.

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