Race Matters in Advertising

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Jun 15, 2006
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By David Morse, President and CEO, New American Dimensions, LLC

(
www.newamericandimensions.com)


Black Enterprise Magazine Chief Calls Ad Industry ‘Racist,’ reads the headline in an article run this week in Advertising Age.



According to the article, Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., the President and CEO of Black Enterprise said that the advertising industry is “licensed to practice racism.” The comments
were made at an event to promote the magazine’s annual “40 Best Companies for Diversity” report. “This is one of the most racist industries in this country. Period. I’m angry
about it. Agencies are licensed to practice racism, not just in hiring but also investing in these media.”


Graves is talking about the ongoing battle that African American advertising agencies face with mainstream shops for African American consumer dollars. He cites figures from
multicultural advertising agency Global Hue as an example of the race gap in marketing budgets – 20 percent of consumers who buy a Chrysler 300C are Black, yet a significantly
smaller amount of the vehicle’s advertising budget is spent targeting African Americans directly.


Said Eugene Morris, head of E. Morris Communications, a Chicago based company that specializes in targeting African Americans, “Marketers assume that their message reaches African
Americans. But reaching them is not selling them. African American agencies develop culturally relevant messages.” He goes on to point out the widely divergent media habits between
Blacks and the general Market. “I can tell you that, for years, ‘Seinfeld’ was the number one TV show. I’ve never seen it.”


Moderator’s Comment: How effectively can African Americans be reached with the same messages as Whites? How much does racism enter the equation?


In Graves’ semi-autobiographical book, “How to Succeed in Business without Being White,” he recounts one of his earliest successes; a sales call to a Vice
President at Hertz Rent-a-Car Company. According to Graves, after showing the Hertz VP some market statistics, he “demanded that [he] show his appreciation and awareness of his
loyal African American customers by purchasing full-page color ads in several issues of Black Enterprise during the next several months.” Hertz bought the ad space.


Did Graves play the “race card?” Absolutely. But that’s how the game was played. It had to be played that way to get marketers to see the value of the African
American market.


But times have changed, and things aren’t as black and white as they used to be, if you’ll pardon the pun. There are now 43 million Hispanics in the United
States, and millions of them prefer speaking Spanish. So African American marketing dollars get diverted. “After all, African Americans speak English,” goes the argument. “We’ll
reach them with our general market campaign.”


We’ve also seen the emergence of so-called “urban marketing”; a kind of hip, multicultural approach to advertising that plays to hip-hop sensibilities.
And more African American dollars get diverted. “Our mainstream ads now reflect African American culture,” is the thinking. “We’re reaching them.”


Our research consistently tells the story that mainstream ads, urban or otherwise, are not the solution. To begin with, Eugene Morris is right – African
Americans and Whites consume totally different media, as Nielsen Media research reveals on any given week. Secondly, Blacks and Whites will respond differently to an ad – the
same ad, shown in the same context.


To truly connect with an African American consumer, marketers need to answer the question posed by marketer Pepper Miller in the title of her book, “What’s
Black about It?” Good ads need to reflect African American culture and values. They need to go beyond simple casting. And if you’re targeting African Americans that weren’t raised
on hip-hop, they need to go beyond “urban.”


Graves is right for reproaching marketers for not advertising in his magazine. Black Enterprise, and other African American media, are important
and effective vehicles for reaching Black consumers. But crying racism doesn’t serve his purpose. Educating marketers about the need to reach out to African American consumers
and the corresponding financial benefits does.

David Morse – Moderator


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13 Comments on "Race Matters in Advertising"


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Karen McNeely
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

I don’t think this is really much different than when we discussed how to market to women or any other groups. You have a bunch of middle aged upper middle class white guys sitting in their executive offices trying to figure out “How women think,” “How African Americans think” etc. When they come up with a plan, it doesn’t appeal to them (which it is not designed to do anyway), so they think it is bad.

I think by getting more minorities and women in key management positions and by listening to their ideas the problem would solve itself.

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

What Mark Lilien says makes perfect sense. But in the real world, it won’t happen. When it comes to advertising or marketing towards African Americans, conventional wisdom is tossed out the window. From my experience, the primary reason African Americans are ignored, compared to other cultures, is the fear of offending them. Nobody wants to be called a racist. I’ve been in many all white strategy meetings over the years when this topic was discussed. It seems like all of us were on edge, talking in code, being careful what we say, and nothing getting accomplished. When Hispanic marketing and advertising ideas were discussed, it was a free-for-all exchange of ideas with everything out in the open. Perhaps all businesses need to do is follow Mark’s suggestions. It’s like wading into a cold swimming pool. It might never really be comfortable but we need to learn to swim.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

The best way to settle the question (and the best way to manage an ad budget): measure the results. If the advertiser measures results objectively, management will know, and have the evidence to prove, which media and which messages are most effective with the targeted audience. Would you drive a car without looking at the speedometer? Would you invest in a mutual fund without knowing its track record? Would you run ads without measuring awareness and consumer behavior before and after the campaign?

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 2 months ago

I agree with a few of the above that the race card is being used. Whether it is justified or not, it shows a lack of class. If you want to scare away people from doing business with you, just start talking about racism.

Linda Jennings
Guest
Linda Jennings
13 years 2 months ago

I would like to think that a potato peeler would work just as well for a black person as a white. Same with a planter pot, cookware set, towels, and so on.

Sometimes I think the marketing should be just on the product to show the uniqueness of the item and not who’s hand it’s going into.

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
13 years 2 months ago

If the idea is that blacks won’t respond unless its a “black” message delivered by someone of “color,” that’s a problem.

The premise is racist in its own right and likely a big contributor to what the media and some marketers continue to promote as a separatist mentality. (i.e. – the FUBU brand – “For Us, By Us”)

The race card is the joker in the deck, and a healthy merchandising and socioeconomic climate cannot tolerate “Jokers Wild” in the game.

Pull the jokers out of the deck. We’ve got to stop feeding the lie that we’re all fundamentally different. We’re not. A good marketer knows the difference between segmentation and separation.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 2 months ago
Could it be that Mr. Graves is simply using the “guilt card” to sell more advertising in his magazine? If so, he wouldn’t be the first to emulate Jesse Jackson’s well-known technique. It’s difficult to believe that if an advertiser chooses not to advertise in Black Enterprise, then they aren’t reaching Black consumers. Additionally (unless one has an agenda), why falsely imply that ad agency media departments and manufacturer marketing departments are peopled exclusively by Whites making White-oriented decisions? Black Enterprise is one of the most narrowly targeted of all advertising media, thus the rant. It is exclusive rather than inclusive, and wonders why it’s being excluded rather than included. The majority of Black Enterprise subscribers also subscribe to one or more mainstream business magazines because more relevant business trends, strategies, and tactics can be found in other publications. Growing up in the Midwest, we always wondered why there were so many Black sitcoms on primetime TV. We figured it was the Eastern-biased Nielsen ratings that kept them on the air. While Mr. Graves never… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
13 years 2 months ago
While other countries often have a class based system, this country has not fully understood how to make race a non-issue. There is very little understanding of the concept of culture. Clients and agencies are not reflective of the diversity of the consumer base and they are not comfortable with cultural issues. They don’t know how to speak to African Americans, they don’t understand the media vehicles…and so they avoid the whole subject as much as they can except when they have to check off a diversity box. This is not just an opinion, this is supported by my exposure to over twenty five years worth of advertising executives at the highest levels and clients in Fortune 500 corporations. I am a Hispanic marketing specialist. My skin happens to be white. There is a very real thing called “White privilege.” There are things that a white skinned person will never have to deal with simply because of the color of their skin. In the same vein, there are things that people will tell a white… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
13 years 2 months ago

This is a thinly disguised attempt to secure more advertising revenue by playing the “race card.” Personally I am weary of these tactics and the whining that goes along with them. Surely the complainer is more intelligent. Why doesn’t he/she do some market research and offer intelligent reasons for advertising more in minority publications. Or is the objective minority advertising or just advertising in Black Enterprise?

American marketers do much work and research and do a good job of advertising efficiently. I would hope that the companies in which I own stock will continue to run businesses and not become a welfare system for minority interests.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
13 years 2 months ago

This issue may be “too hot to handle,” but here’s a thought. In the Chrysler 300C example cited, one would expect that a large measure of advertising would go against mass media reaching a mass audience. So, if half the money goes there, then it would follow that if 20% of the remaining balance was targeted towards African Americans, that would be a net 10% of the total budget. Not sure where the Chrysler numbers ended up, but just pointing out that the entirety of any budget for mass-oriented products isn’t going to go towards a specific niche market. Mass media is called “mass” for a reason, and some of the budget goes there for non-racist reasons, I would think.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
13 years 2 months ago
If executives at these these companies had any people sense or marketing skills, they would know the message is always written, if not delivered, differently to a multi-target group of consumers; called segmentation. Why do you think Honda hit a home run with its new car model, with two different target groups? Who sells to the mass market any more, and is meaningfully profitable? Almost no corporation, unless it’s a price commodity product. Wal-Mart? Sorry, it has realized it can’t continue to rely on its old practices. Sears, nope. You say the auto industry? Sorry again. Rebates have buried the US Auto Corps., and each is still waking up. Why be so kind? All three are still in a deep sleep and in depression. Example Two: Whole Foods advertising. First, understand what a magnificent niche its management knows its target is — well educated black and white (plus other educated ethnic individuals) in cities with academic institutions. Example Three: Why do McDonald’s, P&G, Maxim magazine, Polo or Harrod’s of Mexico have budgets to target their… Read more »
Maurice Redding
Guest
Maurice Redding
13 years 2 months ago

I believe that in the case of the advertising industry, as is the situation with many other industries, the “good old boys” network still flourishes. Therefore, not only are companies insensitive to proper marketing to African American consumers, but insist on the continued channeling of marketing dollars to companies which are predominantly European American.

Gene McCoy
Guest
Gene McCoy
13 years 2 months ago

In addition to my marketing consultancy, I have an interest in two small market radio stations in rural areas.

I can tell you that there is much “discrimination” by almost all businesses against advertising in these rural areas. The stations I have an interest in receive no budget from all the major radio advertisers except for one – McDonald’s. That means that over 99% of advertisers are ignoring the rural market.

If I were to use the Chrysler 300 example, we and other rural media would receive many more dollars from businesses even though it would still be a small overall percentage of their total budget.

Some groups seem to feel that discrimination against them is a “special case” and especially egregious, when it may be simply a calculated business decision, right or wrong.

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