In “What’s Black About It?” Herb Kemp and Pepper Miller explain that many years of neglect have caused what Na’im Akbar, Ph.D., considered one of the world’s preeminent African American psychologists, calls “The Filter,” which he describes as the nucleus of Black experience and culture.
“The filter has predisposed many African Americans to become overly sensitive about feeling stereotyped, and not feeling valued, respected, included and welcomed,” explained Miller and Kemp.
Miller further explains that “the filter” is one of the most “distinguishing characteristics between Blacks and other races.”
“If I were a marketer,” says Miller, “I would want to understand the filter and how we (the businesses and the African American consumer) can connect on a deeper level.”
There is some debate however, as to how prevalent “the filter” is among African American consumers. In “Black Is the New Green,” the authors explain that the African American consumer is mainly looking for “value and responds favorably to exclusive discounts.”
While many corporations and small businesses have good intentions about marketing to the African American consumer, often the results are not successful due to lack of knowledge, not properly tailoring the message, or cultural insensitivity.
“What Whites fail to see is very evident to the Black audience,” explains Robert Pitts, Ph.D., marketing professor at Chicago’s DePaul University. In “What’s Black About It?” he states that “Whites fail to realize certain social, respect and accomplishment values present in some advertising.”
Richard Poston, president of the Antelope Valley Black Chamber of Commerce, explains that one of the main misperceptions is that all African Americans “come from the same educational background and income.”
He further notes that African Americans have not been portrayed positively in the media. “When you have (some) newspapers that put images of African Americans getting arrested on the front cover or articles about Section 8 housing with pictures of African Americans, this creates false stereotypes. People get stuck on these stereotypes.”
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., co-founder and managing director of the Urban Issues Forum, a nonprofit organization that holds monthly forums regarding local urban issues, explains that there has been a failure in, “not understanding the reach and base (of the African American consumer market).”
Samad also explains that many “advertisers do not think African Americans are brand loyal” yet he says that he and many other African Americans “continue to purchase a lot of the same brands that our parents did.”
Numerous studies have revealed some common mistakes of advertisers who attempt to reach out to the African American consumer:
• Use of Ebonics: The use of ebonics has been used in numerous ads in African American newspapers and magazines regardless of the type of reader the publication targets. Not only do many people find this insulting, but its use loses appeal to middle-aged and older consumers.
• Culturally insensitive advertising: Some advertisers have utilized the image of famous Black historical figures during Black History Month to promote products. Other examples include advertising that reinforces stereotypes.
• Not considering the publication: Some advertisers think of the African American consumer as a monolithic group without considering the main readership demographic of a publication. Does the publication appeal more to women, youth, baby boomers, affluent African Americans etc.? The message needs to resonate with the reader.
• Imagery: Many African American consumers have observed a lack of positive images when marketing to the African American community. Most want to see more positive images such as loving families, affluent African Americans, Black love, lifestyle-focused advertising and the beauty of African American women.
The key point to remember here is that African Americans are a diverse group like any other collection of people. Factors such as age, education, geography, interests and hobbies, income, gender, religion and other factors create different marketing segments to consider.
While opinions vary, many multicultural marketing firms such as the Hunter-Miller Group and Diversity Affluence agree that in order for businesses to increase profits by marketing to the African American consumer, there needs to be a level of understanding of different factors. These include: recognizing the strength of the African American consumer market, providing positive imagery and using culturally sensitive marketing.
Samad says, “The Black marketing industry (such as Black-owned advertising firms) needs to come together and develop unity and a consistent message.”
Non-African Americans need to understand that there has been a long history of neglect, disrespect and misperceptions of the African American consumer market. Business owners and executives stand to increase profits significantly, if they take the time to move away from antiquated methods that are not inclusive of an ever-increasing diverse population as well as messages that miss the mark. Also, companies that profit from the African American consumer need to be held accountable, if they are ignoring the patronage of African American consumers. Editorials in the Black press and effective use of social media are just some of the ways that this issue can be brought to light.
“Consumers have economic buying power that needs to be used better in their own self-interest,” says Smikle. “African American consumers should be asking if the brand (or store) they are purchasing from is making a contribution to the Black community or investing in the Black consumer market? How wide is the gap between purchasing (by the African American consumer) and investing into the African American consumer market?
Smikle also explains that social media can play a role in bringing attention to the issue of how corporations profit from the African American consumer, and whether these corporations are acknowledging Black consumer patronage by investing ad dollars in Black-oriented publications and/or the community.