Don’t Be “Insecure” About Using Pop Culture to Promote Your Cause

September 20, 2017

When HBO premiered the popular series “Insecure” in October 2016, the network opened doors for conversations about modern social issues that use humor and nuance.

The mere existence of the show – not to mention its widespread popularity – is groundbreaking. “Insecure” features a black woman (played by Issa Rae) as the main character and creator of a premium cable series, among an all-black cast. The show presents social issues, overlooked by most television series, from the perspective of black 20 and 30-somethings in Los Angeles. However, based on “Insecure’s” viewership, the themes presented in the series resonate with audiences from all backgrounds.

“Insecure’s” meteoric rise in popularity presents a unique opportunity for organizations and causes to engage with a built-in community of people already in tune with the issues they care about. Whether a viewer is #TeamIssa or #TeamLawrence, they are likely to find common ground with an organization that is creating campaigns and holding discussions on salient issues through the lens of their favorite show.

Take gentrification for instance. Throughout the second season, the changing scenery around Issa’s Inglewood neighborhood coincides with the changes happening in her own life, which are woven seamlessly into the storyline: from Issa’s rent increase, to new businesses coming in and white people rebranding the neighborhood as “iWood.”

Viewers took notice – and vented their frustrations on Twitter to discuss how gentrification affects their own lives. The open conversation allowed organizations like Uplift Inglewood to plug into the discussion and make a call to action.

Another major plot point in the show centers on Issa’s friend Molly (played by Yvonne Orji) who discovers that her white, male co-worker earns a much larger salary than she does. As Rae discussed in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, pay inequity was a concern she wanted to address through the series.


“It meant a lot. It was a topic that became very near and dear to my heart in the past couple of years because I became aware of it,” said Rae. “I wasn’t aware that it was so prevalent in the entire industry, and not just in Hollywood, but in corporate environments too – just everywhere.”

Rae’s vocal push for equal pay for women and women of color has empowered fans and organizations alike to further the discussion on social and traditional media platforms. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) took advantage of the show’s heavy coverage to host an online discussion via Twitter – a savvy marketing move to improve engagement and increase brand awareness.

As a writer, Rae has the uncanny ability to craft storylines that spark a larger discussion, creating a space for cultural dialogue among her audiences. For example, the subplot involving a black vice principal discriminating against his Latino student body sparked some candid Twitter dialogue, as well as a wide range of think pieces on the subject of racial prejudice within communities of color.

While there are plenty of overt ways social justice dialogue is incorporated into “Insecure,” there are also are subtle references scattered throughout. For example, in the “Hella Perspective” episode, Issa’s friend Molly sports a grey hoodie with the name “Trayvon” emblazoned across the front. After the episode aired, Orji posted on Twitter explaining that the sweatshirt was created by “Liberated People,” a lifestyle brand that donates a portion of their proceeds to the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

Whether through a strong marketing department or luck, “Liberated People” landed a dream product placement. Organizations with resources and connections to the entertainment industry can leverage these relationships to promote their cause – and a primetime television placement certainly can’t hurt.

In this era of online activism, there are countless creative ways for individuals and organizations to promote their message directly to their target audience. Using built-in networks of engaged citizens, like the massive viewership of “Insecure,” allows for a direct line to audiences looking to make a difference. As “Insecure’s” stock continues to rise, causes and organizations should think strategically about how they interact with the show and its viewers to promote their own aligning messages.

To explore incorporating “Insecure” or other shows into your organization’s impact strategy, get in touch by e-mailing

This post was written by Christian Medina Beltz, an intern at Spitfire.