Celebrating Black Pioneers In Advertising: 5 Remarkable Individuals Who Shaped The Industry


Written by Don Brown 

The advertising industry has seen the rise of talented and visionary Black pioneers who shattered barriers and made significant contributions. In this article, we highlight five exceptional individuals who not only left a lasting impact but also paved the way for future generations. From breaking down racial barriers to founding their own agencies, these pioneers revolutionized the field of advertising and marketing.


Tom Burrell: Redefining Advertising with Cultural Relevance

Courtesy of D. Watkins

Tom Burrell’s journey began as a mailroom worker at Wade Advertising while studying at Roosevelt University in 1961. Despite facing racial barriers, Burrell became the agency’s first African American copywriter, challenging the industry’s status quo. His belief that “Black people are not dark-skinned white people” transformed advertising strategies, notably seen in his iconic reimagination of the Marlboro Man. Burrell later founded his agency, Burrell Communications Group, working with renowned brands such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Kmart.


Vincent T. Cullers: Breaking Boundaries with the Cullers Agency

Courtesy of D. Watkins

Vincent T. Cullers, a former art director at Ebony magazine, recognized the industry’s underserved market and co-founded the Cullers Agency in 1956 with his wife, Marian, and Emmitt McBaine. Their agency aimed to bring attention to communities that had long been neglected by advertising. Through their groundbreaking work, they challenged stereotypes and empowered diverse voices.


Barbara Gardner Proctor: Shattering Glass Ceilings with Proctor and Gardner Advertising

Courtesy of D. Watkins

Barbara Gardner Proctor, an advertising executive, made history as the first African American woman to own and operate an advertising agency. In 1970, she founded Proctor and Gardner Advertising, Inc., which quickly became one of the largest African American advertising agencies in the United States. Proctor’s resilience and commitment to excellence earned her numerous accolades, including being named Chicago Advertising Woman of the Year and being featured in the Smithsonian Institution’s “Black Women Achievement against the Odds Hall of Fame.”


Jo Muse: Championing Multicultural Advertising

Courtesy of D. Watkins

Known as the “Father of Multicultural Advertising,” Jo Muse broke barriers and championed diversity in the industry. In 1987, he co-founded Muse Cordero Chen, the first true multiethnic agency, alongside David Chen and Mavis Cordero. Muse believed in the power of reflecting the diverse consumer base through the agency’s workforce and campaigns. His dedication to fostering talent and promoting diversity earned him a place in the Advertising Hall of Fame. Muse passed away just a few weeks ago in April of 2023. 


Don Coleman: Leading the Way in Multicultural Advertising

Courtesy of D. Watkins

Don Coleman, an advertising executive and entrepreneur, played a pivotal role in the growing field of multicultural advertising. He founded GlobalHue, the largest multicultural advertising agency in the United States. Coleman’s agency focused on effectively communicating with African-American, Asian, and Hispanic consumers. His commitment to diversity and cultural relevance garnered recognition, including being named the BE 100 Advertising Agency of the Year.


Aaron Walton – A Legacy of Excellence

Courtesy of D. Watkins

Aaron Walton, a highly influential figure in the advertising industry, has made remarkable contributions to the field. After graduating from Babson College, Walton embarked on an impressive career journey, working with notable names such as PepsiCo, Michael Jackson, and Magic Johnson. In 2005, he co-founded Walton Isaacson,alongside Cory Isaacson.


Through his leadership, the agency has achieved exceptional results for A-list clients, including Lexus, American Airlines, Constellation, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Amazon.

Walton’s impact on the advertising industry goes beyond his agency’s success. His entrepreneurial spirit, influence, groundbreaking ideas, and exceptional leadership have solidified his position as one of the nation’s top Black advertising executives. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Walton was inducted into the advertising hall of fame in 2023.

These five remarkable pioneers not only made their mark in the advertising industry but also paved the way for future generations of Black professionals. Through their talent, determination, and groundbreaking ideas, they challenged the status quo, shattered barriers, and championed diversity and cultural relevance. Their contributions continue to inspire and shape the ever-evolving landscape of advertising and marketing.