Magazine article Black Enterprise

Going after Our Dollars

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Going after Our Dollars

Article excerpt

It's been at least 30 years since marketers began targeting the black consumer. But it remains to be seen whether their commitment is more than skin deep.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A GENERATION MAKES. Orlana Darkins, a 27-year-old communications manager for the Minority Enterprise Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania, remembers looking through department store catalogs with her sisters before it was hip to use black models in them. Though the models and clothes featured today are attractive and now make a direct appeal to blacks, she says it doesn't necessarily make her want to buy them or any other products targeted to African Americans.

"I have mixed feelings. At one time, products for black people were very scarce," says Darkins. "It's great that they've made more products available, but I don't buy Kente cloth from J.C. Penney's or makeup made for black women from Revlon. They didn't pick up on this idea until they saw that it worked for black companies."

Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, a professor at Texas A&M University in College Station, sees the issue a little differently. "Some of my friends were fired in the 1970s and '80s for wearing braids," she recalls. Now she can appreciate ads featuring black women with braided hair. "Including African culture is a part of marketing strategies now that companies are willing to take more risks and push their creativity. I admire companies that are willing to do this," explains the author of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

The idea of corporations reaching out to African Americans is not new. Pioneers such as Coca-Cola saw the market potential as early as the 1950s, when the company began using images like Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Decades later, more African Americans are now featured in advertisements across a spectrum of industries like automotive products, athletic shoes, clothing, cosmetics, fast foods, soft drinks and telecommunications, to name a few. Famous faces from Michael Jordan and Halle Berry to Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Rock are making their way onto billboards, magazines and across TV screens, pitching products from Nike and Revlon to Pepsi and AT&T for mass consumption.

While the increasing number of black images may seem Impressive on the surface, we need to look at what corporations are really doing to attract black dollars. Only we can determine if these companies are reaching out to us and decide if this effort translates into a deeper commitment to African Americans and our dollars.

Arguably, some corporations are showing commitment in a number of ways, from creating a targeted product with African Americans in mind to offering job and business opportunities. Others are marketing their products in our communities via black ad agencies, publications, radio and television and promotional sponsorships. But industry experts say that making a commitment in the form of an integrated marketing plan targeted to blacks is not being done to the degree it should.

"There's some kind of phobia about giving the African American customer their economic due, and there are few African American-targeted marketing programs that are funded to reach the market on a consistent basis," says Byron E. Lewis Sr., chairman and CEO of New York-based Uniworld Group, the world's largest independently-owned ethnic advertising agency (ranked No. 6 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list).

Instead, the vast majority of corporations take the easy way out and let their mainstream agencies use a mass media approach rather than utilizing specialists in African American marketing and African American-owned media. These companies use black spokespersons in a general market campaign designed not to offend whites while impressing--and sometimes misleading--blacks. "The ongoing problem is that mainstream ad agencies tell clients that the African American market is covered by mass-market media," says Lewis. …

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