Brands risk ignoring African-Americans

14 October 2014

NEW YORK: Brands pursuing a total-market strategy must be careful not to neglect African-American shoppers, a leading executive has argued in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

In a recently-published "Speaker's Box" piece, Esther (E.T.) Franklin, evp/head of Starcom MediaVest Group Americas Experience Strategy, observed that marketing messages are increasingly inclusive in tone.

The total-market approach – which largely looks at the general and minority markets as a single entity with the aim of seeking out universal truths that are applicable across the board – is symptomatic of this idea in action.

A problem potentially resulting from this thinking, however, is that such communications are often not premised upon in-depth cultural insights or the specific experiences of African-Americans.

"Black America – the very audience that helped give rise to multicultural opportunities in marketing/media/advertising as the aftereffects of a hard-fought (and won) Civil Rights movement – is disappearing from the landscape it helped create," Franklin warned.

"Strategies guided by the Black perspective are dropping out of the strategic marketing mix, even as brand owners take millions of dollars that should be invested in targeting Black audiences and spend those funds in programs that make no connection to Black consumers."

Rather than constituting definitive progress on multicultural marketing in the past, many contemporary campaigns, therefore, threaten to move the industry backwards instead of forwards.

"Today's total-market efforts are tactical in nature," she added. "Based on casting, music, and celebrity ploys, they lag decades behind the strategically grounded, culturally vibrant, winning approaches of a bygone era."

More positively, better meeting the needs of a consumer base possessing a collective buying power of over $1 trillion is thus a renewed opportunity for companies that are capable of responding effectively.

Achieving this goal, in turn, depends on recognising that culture is a key part of an individual'' identity, and how they see themselves in the world. At present, by contrast, "cultural resonance rarely shows up", Franklin said.

So how might brands start to remedy this situation? "Black people want stories told from their voices – experiences of and about them – to be equitably reflective of the whole of their reality," she advised.

Data sourced from Warc