Advertising to Black Communities

How will President-elect Barack Obama’s ascension to the highest office in the land impact the perception of African Americans?

It’s a question blacks and even Americans of other races have been grappling with since Obama first gained momentum on the campaign trail. Black advertising professionals addressed what it means for their industry and black media outlets at a panel discussion Tuesday.

The forum, “Urban Legends: What Corporate America Still Misunderstands about Black People,” explored the challenges of conveying to advertisers the monetary value of marketing to African Americans and spending advertising dollars in black-owned media outlets.

“Data always wins,” says Najoh Tita-Reid, former director of multicultural and African American marketing at Procter & Gamble. “The statistics are there and the data should rule our decisions, but many times it doesn’t,” she says about the $892 billion buying power of blacks.

For some companies, a seemingly lack of advertising dollars means smaller and niche demographics get overlooked, including African Americans.

“If you’re not going to view [the African American market] as being a business imperative then black media loses,” Tita-Reid says.

Though some of the panelists, including Alfred C. Liggins, president and CEO of Radio One Inc., acknowledged that advertisers have at least taken a greater interest in African Americans as Obama heads to the White House, the reality remains stark for others.

“African Americans spend money on things that are not marketed toward them,” says Steve Stoute, CEO of Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging, an advertising agency. This can hinder black-owned media outlets from generating advertising revenue.

Also, a push by many Fortune 500 companies for large market penetration has made it even more difficult for black-owned media outlets. Because of their smaller audiences compared with mainstream outlets, corporations may not perceive a return on their investment, and advertising agencies devote fewer resources toward penetrating that market, Stoute says.

The panel also brought attention to the Radio One Black America Study, released in June, that Liggins says debunks some of the advertising industry’s myths about marketing toward blacks. The most important misperception overturned is that the black community is a monolithic community, Liggins says.

“We commissioned a study so people could understand the revenue depth of the African American community across all age demographics…and we’re sharing with folks that have similar interest in this particular demographic as we do,” he adds.

The study, which surveyed 3,400 blacks between the ages of 13 and 74, found 11 segments of African Americans. The group types range from “connected black teens,” a tech-savvy group that believes too much focus is put on the oppression of blacks, to “boomer blacks,” also a tech-savvy group, about 52 years old, that seeks to take advantage of opportunities won by previous generations.

The bottom line: Conveying the need to target African Americans starts at the top, Liggings says. “There’s nobody at the top of the organization that gets emotional about attacking the African American market.”

As for the Obama factor, media outlets and black advertising professionals say it’s