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Racism By Non-Marketing

At Black Enterprise's "40 Best Companies for Diversity" conference on Monday, the magazine's President and CEO Earl "Butch" Graves Jr. declared to a crowd of some 100 HR and diversity execs that the advertising industry is "licensed to practice racism" (according to AdAge). While an unsettling statement, it's certainly not shocking, given the miniscule number of senior-level black execs represented in agencies across the land. In fact, just last week, 16 top execs from New York ad agencies were subpeonaed to testify for the city's Commission on Human Rights specifically regarding the ad industry's pathetic track record when it comes to placing blacks in senior positions.

Good point Butch, and thanks for making a HR folks nervous in their seats for a few minutes.

But his other main gripe—and the one I found curious—was his complaint about the measly number of marketing dollars spent on marketing to blacks. Sure, he does happen to run a magazine that's lifeline is dependent on advertising aimed at black consumers. But that aside, he's generally ticked that brands aren't spending money to advertise to blacks. For example, he cites Chrysler's 300C: while some 20% of the car's customers are black, less than 20% of its ad budget is being applied to black marketing.

What struck me as strange is: since when is someone flattered that they are being marketed TO? Personally, when I see an ad on TV that's geared to a late-twentysomething urban female (that would be, ahem, me) I usually tend to roll my eyes, feeling like a sucker for being seduced, even for a moment, by that tampon, dating service, or, you know—fill in the blank. It's not like that marketer holds a special place in their heart for me; all they want is my dollar—any dollar that is—whether it be a dollar from a white chick, gay guy, or black father in the burbs.

I understand your frustration, Mr. Graves, for blacks not being represented in the workplace and your personal frustration for ad dollars. But my question to you is: since when do we, as a race, an ethnic, or religious group, look to marketers of all people to validate us? When marketers pick up on fiscally fertile groups like "evangelicals," "soccer moms," or "metrosexuals," should we, as the individuals behind those blanket terms be FLATTERED or INSULTED that we're now being recognized?

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  • ExecutiveSG

    I cannot believe what I am reading here.

    Marketers target their market by demograph first. Whether it is age, income, race, marital status or sex. Market segmentation is what marketers DO. These demographic attributes influence response to advertising, brand response, consumer identification of and/or with the product, and the marketer's bottom line. Who would market a Porsche to a household with a 30K annual income? Answer - NOBODY. Asserting that marketing is racist is absurd.

    The misconception that all black people live in the ghetto and are on welfare has not been broken down by mainstream marketers simply because most marketers do not realize the available wallet share of the black community has increased dramatically in the past ten years. They think there is no money there. Marketers work off the bottom line and target the largest wallet share available.

    Add to this, most marketers are not well enough informed to market to this community. And yes, most marketers are white. You cannot market to ANY demographic if you cannot relate.

    The Hispanic market is just now getting its ad dollars and the attention of some of the biggest advertisers in the United States. Cracking the Hispanic market has required massive funding into research on the culture in order for marketers to understand HOW to approach this very different and sensitive segment. The available wallet share of the Hispanic population segment is bigger than that of Black America. Hispanic ROI came up first because it's larger, has larger disposable income, is easier to target and easier to close.

    Marketers see statistics, the bottom line and return on investment.

    Marketers see in black and white, but we don't care what color your skin is.



  • Myles K

    Nigel, what do you think about the original premise of the article--the lack of minority leaders in marketing agencies?

    We've been discussing quite a bit about the marketing focus and not so much about the issue being investigated by the US Congress.

  • Nigel Gordijk

    I'm a forty-something male, born in England to Guyanese parents. My mother is from an Oriental background; my father was part black, part white and his parents were born in the Dutch Carribean with Spanish and Dutch heritage. When is someone going to market to my ethnicity?

    Yes, that would be ridiculous, as is marketing to anyone's race.

  • Myles K

    In my humble opinion, the ad industry is held back by leaders no longer want to learn how (and to whom) to market effectively and efficiently.

    Interesting, though, that Derek Jeter and Spike Lee are in an automotive ad.

    Would black leaders shift advertising dollars to magazines catering to black people? Would black leaders increase the proportion of minorities in ads running in "white" publications?

    Are magazine ads the right place to put dollars? How about minority-focused websites?

  • Jacqueline Morris

    The issue isn't marketing dollars, but it's "upmarket" marketing dollars. I remember the protests against companies marketing cheap cigarettes and 40 oz alcoholic beverages to Black people. The problem I see is related to that type of marketing in that we aren't yet seen as a valid financial force. And yes, marketers validate purchasing power.

  • roger fulton

    the more I read this claptrap, the more I believe Morgan Freeman is right: the sooner you STOP talking about this, the sooner the problem is over.