Race to the Bottom Line: Multicultural Marketing Makes Its Mark

By Perry-Johnson, Arlethia | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 24, 1995 | Go to article overview

Race to the Bottom Line: Multicultural Marketing Makes Its Mark


Perry-Johnson, Arlethia, Black Issues in Higher Education


Race to the Bottom Line: Multicultural Marketing Makes Its Mark.

Advertising and Marketing to the New Majority: A Case Study Approach

by Gail Baker Woods

Wadsworth Publishing company, 1995

175 pp., $22.35 softcover

Since 1900 when Madam C.J. Walker introduced the "straightening comb" to "remove the curl" from the hair of African-American women, marketing to this segment of the population has been lucrative. In less than 20 years after introducing her hot comb and other innovative hair-care products developed especially for Black women, Walker became the nation's first self-made female millionaire.

Dr. Gail Baker Woods, in her new book, "Advertising and Marketing to the New Majority: A Case Study Approach," analyzes Walker's business acumen and places it in its proper historical context. Woods credits Walker with creating "a blueprint on how to market effectively to ethnic audiences." Woods adds even more dimension to that blueprint.

Woods, an associate professor and chairperson of Public Relations at the University of Florida, has assembled an impressive collection of data, case studies and interviews with a racially diverse group of 11 high-profile advertising-industry executives. This textbook on the why, how and "how-not-to" of ethnic marketing is a must read for marketing professionals who recognize the demographic gold mine that populations of color constitute. For those who do not recognize the value of these markets, the text is all the more critical.

The strength of Woods' work is the exploration of the evolution of ethnic advertising, its role and value in mainstream marketing and research on ethnic consumer behavior. Its weakness is its discussion of ethnic employment in advertising, which is not covered in enough depth relative to the significance of the issue.

Topics include why ethnic marketing should be studied, the role of ethnic advertising agencies, barriers to researching ethnic markets, and protests against liquor and cigarette advertising. The case studies are well presented, insightful and informative.

Woods dissects the growth of "ethnic subcultures" and the intricate nuances of the African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native-American markets. She paints a particularly vivid historical portrait of the African-American community's economic clout in a vignette that reaffirms Madam C.J. Walker, whose story is a classic case study.

By targeting and addressing the self-esteem and fashion consciousness of African-American women, Walker -- the daughter of sharecroppers and a former laundress -- exhibited her enterprise and tapped the vital, yet under-utilized Black economic market.

With no formal business training, Walker adhered to the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion. She distributed her products to beauty shops, made them affordable, published her ads in prestigious Black newspapers and placed her picture on her products so consumers would know they were developed by a Black woman.

Walker also understood the role of public relations, philanthropy and "good corporate citizenship." She donated to Black orphanages, schools and other civic organizations. She also built her own block-long factory in Indianapolis. By 1911, Walker's enterprise was grossing more than $100,000 annually. When she died in 1919, Walker left behind more than $1 million and an even richer marketing legacy that lives on today.

In 1991, a national study titled "Market Opportunities in Retail: Insight into Black American Consumers' Buying Habits" reflected that African-American shoppers make up 34 percent of the hair-care product market. Clearly Walker had her finger on the pulse.

Such is Woods' position. The sheer profitability of ethnic markets forces their consideration as advertisers aggressively compete to increase audiences and market shares. And there are lessons to be learned that are transferable to mainstream marketing practices. …

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