Sorta lengthy, but worth the read i think... Would luv some feedback. and be curious if anyone out here has ever considered going into the advertising/marketing/pr industries....
------- “What makes this ‘Black’?” (Pt. 2 of “How Marketers Hustle Black Culture) By: Hadji Williams
Ever see a TV commercial or print ad with people of color and wonder how/why it came out the way it did? Well, as a 13-year veteran of the advertising and marketing worlds, I’m going to tell you the truth no one in the ad world wants you to hear: It’s called the “Universal Hustle.” The Universal Hustle is how advertisers manipulate black consumers, hiphop and other aspects of urban culture for profit and control. It goes like this:
The marketing industry hustle is divided up into 2 camps: General Markets and Targeted Markets. To clarify, “general market” is to White or Mainstream as “targeted” is to Urban, Black, or Minority.
At my general market gigs, which I did for about 7 years, it was all about reaching mainstream consumers. From a business perspective, “general market” has more to do with race than income. For example: if you’re rich and Black, most marketers still classify you as “urban”; but if you’re poor and white, you’re still considered “general market.” Secondly, when a white-owned company or brand targets white consumers, it’s called a “general market” campaign. But if that same company goes after minority consumers, as many do today, they’re still “general market” clients but now they’re targeting “emerging markets.” Conversely, Black-owned businesses are “urban” no matter who they target. (Harpo, Inc. being the most obvious exception to this.) It’s all about labels and the “general market” label still has the most cache (and money) in business.
Again, marketing is basically 50% educated guesswork, 25% making that guesswork look like hard science, and 25% dealing with the results of the guesswork. Success is well-timed correct guesses based on common ground; and common ground starts with race. The majority American consumer is still white. The clients are usually white. The media outlets we use to reach consumers are either run by/filled with white professionals, targeting white and mainstream consumers or both. Consequently, we always understood that our most important job was to stick to the whiteness script: Understand white/mainstream clients and consumers inside and out. Or else.
While white or mainstream marketing pros simply work on reaching consumers by any mean necessary, clients force Black marketing professionals to answer the same degrading question: “What makes your work ‘targeted’ or ‘inherently Black’?” You see, as a Black advertising professional or marketing firm your biggest bargaining chip isn’t ability but race; but it’s also your biggest crutch.
Simply put, if you can’t do work that’s “inherently Black” most marketers and clients (who are still overwhelmingly white) won’t hire you to do anything else. Conversely, it’s an unspoken but widely enforced industry-rule that “targeted” marketing firms (those which reach black consumers) aren’t allowed to bid on general market accounts (which are geared towards the more lucrative white consumers). Most companies have the mentality of, “Why should I hire a Black marketing firm to reach white consumers when my general market firm does that?” Many also wonder, “Why should I hire a Black firm to reach Black consumers if my general market firm can crossover and reach Black consumers, too?” It’s the marketing industry’s version of Jim Crow and it’s been in effect ever since Aunt Jemima rocked ‘do rags.
Over the years, when I worked on major brands such as Aleve, Cingular Wireless, Mello Yello, Procter & Gamble, SBC, Sprite, Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Co., etc. I did so thru “general market” firms where white consumers were the focus. Occasionally they’d try to reach minority consumers but they usually screwed it up. I lost count of the number of times I saw random white people running around screaming, “How do you say ‘such-n-such’ in Spanish?” or “This won’t offend anyone in Chinatown, will it?” But even today, there’s still a “whites only” mentality at most general market shops, which sucks because again, that’s where most of the real money and opportunity is.
My first exposure to “Inherent Blackness” came back in 1999 when I worked on Kool-Aid thru Uniworld, a targeted agency in New York. As their targeted shop, our job was to help Kool-Aid reach black consumers. I think Ogilvy & Mather was the “lead agency,” which meant they handled all of the general market work. (They may have launched the classic Kool-Aid Man campaign back in the day, but I’m not sure.) Anyway, as a Kraft Foods brand, Kool-Aid is a longtime staple in many Black, ‘scuse me, “urban” households. My role was to bring a younger urban perspective to the traditional “drink it and smile about it” flavor Kool-Aid’s targeted work had up until then.
My first TV spot was based on Walt Disney’s Fantasia and my dad. Growing up my dad always made Kool-Aid with the same large spoon. Since he rarely used that spoon for anything else, we called it The Kool-Aid Spoon. Turns out a lot of people who made Kool-Aid had their own special spoon—it was usually the only spoon they had that fit the big pitchers they used.
So I took that “magic spoon” memory and combined it with Fantasia to create “The Magic Spoon,” an animated spot in which a packet of Kool-Aid brings a spoon to life, which in turn stirs up a kitchen full of fun including a pitcher of delicious Kool-Aid. When I presented the spot to my creative directors and superiors they all said the same thing:
“We love it, it’s a great spot. But what makes it inherently Black?”
The fact that everyone liked the spot and understood it was irrelevant. What mattered most was that the spot had no blacks, (no people at all, for that matter), and the music wasn’t hip-hop or R&B, there was nothing overtly “Black” about it. And because of that it was argued that Kool-Aid’s “general market” agency could’ve done this ad. And if general market agencies can reach black consumers then clients don’t need to hire black agencies. And if clients don’t hire black agencies then black professionals have to look to general market agencies for employment. And since general market agencies still won’t hire black professionals in any reasonable numbers, you as a Black marketer are out of work.
So I went back to the drawing board and developed another spot—one that would be clearly Inherently Black. It was a nice “family reunion” spot filled with happy, well-spoken, well-dressed, mainstream-friendly black people drinking Kool-Aid and smiling about how good it made them feel. There were even some black people singing about Kool-Aid at the end. The client loved it, bought it, shot it and it aired a few months later.
“IT'S YOUR WORLD.”
I saw the other end of the “Uniquely Black” spectrum while working on AT&T at the same shop. For years AT&T was king but deregulation, competition, etc. caused them to fall-off a bit. Now they were just big, old and stodgy. So one of my first assignments was to convince young black consumers that AT&T’s online services, then known as “att.net,” were the perfect remedy for all their online shopping needs. Now when you’re dealing with a highly commoditized category like ISPs, you go for the intimate, emotional connection with your audience, you want to get at the heart of what drives people. That’s your best shot at setting yourself apart from the pack…
So I got inside the minds and hearts of our target consumer. What I discovered was at the time for a huge segment of black internet users, the internet’s greatest appeal as a shopping vehicle (outside of convenience and access which everyone offered) is that it offers a sense of equality. No one can discriminate against you in cyberspace because they don’t know what you look like unless you tell them. Anonymity is power for a lot of internet users, especially minorities. Now this was very different from the brick and mortar shopping experiences many minority consumers still have where they can face racial profiling, unfair pricing, inferior customer service, etc. So I developed a campaign based on empowerment and freedom—things that everyone wants, but is particularly relevant to black shoppers.
The first TV spot featured a group of young black teenagers trying to shop in an upscale store. The security guard follows them… The store workers give them second-class treatment, etc. So in a moment of inspired frustration, they decide to go home and shop online using att.net. They get the products they want, it’s safe and secure transaction that leaves them feeling empowered and they live happily ever after. Everyone loved the spot. But it died. Why? Because while the campaign appealed to black and ethnic consumers, it made whites including the client, uncomfortable. And in the end, even when the audience is black, you have to be concerned with what white people think.
So again, to keep all of this from happening out came the “inherently Black” advertising and marketing—work that appealed to whites as much if not more so than blacks. This is why you see so many marketing schemes and entertainment properties still feature suspect imagery and themes. For all of our significant strides, Black people still have to “prove” their blackness to non-black people in order to succeed.
Our whole relationship to success has become how well we fit into a scheme we have no control over and we have not designed. —Elaine Brown, author/former Black Panther on Blacks in America’s consumer culture
The worst part of working at a targeted agency is when the client uses the targeted agency’s work without paying for it. I’ve watched it happen for a few years. The program is simple:
The targeted agency shows its work. The client picks a campaign or creative direction. Next they bring in their targeted agencies (Asian, Hispanic, Black, etc.) to essentially translate and tailor the lead agency’s work for their respective audiences. But sometimes the targeted agency comes back with work that’s hipper, stronger, and more relevant than the GM agency’s. (This is often confirmed when the client focus groups everything and the targeted work tests higher or the general market work tests poorly.)
Oftentimes when this happens, the client and/or general market agency mysteriously “puts off moving forward” in lieu of further “brainstorming sessions.” This is where the client and/or lead agency take all the work, including the targeted shops’ ideas off to ‘rethink directions,’ etc. A little time goes by and next thing you know the lead agency has a campaign that’s remarkably similar to what the targeted agency showed weeks back. And if the idea explodes, the lead agency gets all the praise while the targeted agency is rewarded with a couple extra table scraps. (Beat biters, dope style takers…)
As I said earlier, agencies are ranked according to their billings or account revenues. Agencies tend to be broken-down by large, small, mid-sized and boutiques. “Large” agencies tend to have billings over $500 million—there are more than a few of them, the most notably: JWT, Grey, FCB, Leo Burnett, W&K, O&M, BBDO, and Needham. And some have annual billings approaching one billion dollars. Typically, the “mid-sized” shops do between $200-500 mill a year and vary by market and there are dozens of them. (Think: Kirshenbaum & Bond, Deutsch, Fallon McElligott, Cramer Krasselt, etc.) “Small” is usually anything under $100 million and those with “boutique” status tend to specialize more in projects for multiple small clients rather than having a stable roster of larger clients to depend on.
Now to give you an idea of some of the entrenched inequities in the game, at their absolute zenith the three biggest “targeted” shops in the country—Burrell Communications, Carol H. Williams and Uniworld, NYC—have never billed more than a healthy mid-sized shop in any year. Why? Clients have never given them enough opportunities to do so. Furthermore, because of the often-incestuous relationships within the industry there still aren’t that many black-owned ad agencies and marketing firms to speak of. While the talent is there, most clients, especially general market ones still aren’t willing to work with enough black ad professionals to support the existence of more than a handful of black agencies.
This revenue inequity also extends to the larger marketplace…
More than ratings or subscribers, the media business revolves around ad revenue. Marketers are the engine and steering wheel for most all media vehicles. High ad sales and sponsorship dollars allow one to reinvest in infrastructure, pay for top media talent, and hot entertainment properties, etc. But when clients allocate crap media budgets to reaching black consumers the black radio stations, black magazines, and black TV programs, everyone suffers. Professionals at black media outlets can’t make the kind of money their white counterparts make. Black media talent can’t make what their white counterparts make. Black entertainment properties (TV and radio shows, etc.) can’t charge what their white entertainment properties charge. And of course Black media companies can’t grow like their mainstream counterparts can.
And again, general market brands reserve their account billings for general market agencies while targeted agencies, be they Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. are rarely if ever even allowed to compete for general market money; and when they do it’s usually under highly suspect circumstances.
So besides trying to pull urban consumers on their own, general market agencies will form alliances with targeted shops “when needed”; then they (with the client’s support/help) proceed to give them crumbs for accomplishing what would never get done any other way. But this would actually be okay except for a couple key factors:
One: Annually, Blacks spend an estimated $680 billion on products and services supporting mainly non-black-owned businesses; and by 2008, that number is expected to hit $921 billion.(1) Two: Because of mainstream America’s appetite for ethnic culture, most black media outlets and programming reaches far more white and mainstream consumers than general market analysts ever admit to. (Let’s be real: If you just took the number of mainstreamers who watch BET, read “urban” mags and consume Black music, fashion, and entertainment properties you could start your own small country; round up non-black folks who do the same on a global scale and you could colonize the moon.) So while profiting off the Black community from all sides, mainstream businesses continue to screw their Black counterparts out of billions of dollars in deserved revenues and opportunities, not to mention respect. (And of course it’s all perfectly legal, even ethical.)
Anyway, I felt like I had no choice but to play the game. I walked the color line and gave clients what they wanted. And they bought it, either because they didn’t care or because they only cared about profits. The media outlets always ran with it because they got paid. And consumers—black, white, brown, and every hue in between bought it because blackness is product, not humanity. Yet as professionals who made the pie bigger, we never got more than crumbs and slivers our troubles. And save for a couple fresh wrinkles the saga continues, same as it ever was.
I’m not a prostitute but I can give you want you want. —Missy Elliott (2)
1. “The Multicultural Economy 2003, America’s Minority Buying Power” (study) by Jeffrey M. Humphreys, Selig Center for Economic Growth, Terry College of Business, U. of Georgia, 2003. 2. “Work It” (song) Missy Elliot (2003) ----------