Although Black buying power could rival the GDP of most countries on earth, the African American consumer remains in an undervalued or more blatantly, an unappreciated position. When it comes to marketing to the Black consumer, companies still don’t get it. African Americans are forced to endure demeaning ads latent with stereotypical characters or the complete absence of Black people at all–there is often no middle ground. What is even more odd, is African American businesses from the downtown art gallery to major fashion brands who seemingly aren’t interested in consumers from their own communities. You’ve seen them, that hot new brand that’s marketing the latest “it” product. Typically many us don’t think twice about it because there is no Black presence on websites, print ads and television commercials. Suddenly you hear from the infamous “fwd” email that these businesses are owned by people that look like you and I. Somehow the lack of Black actors or at least a Latina here or there in commercials sends the signal that the company is trying to project something larger the ‘urban’ community. Or could it be that these businesses are looking to yield mainstream revenue, so they look beyond their own communities, often times the consumers that made them, and market directly to non-Blacks? Is this a smart businesses strategy or a slap in the face?
Or could our contempt of Black businesses who refuse to market to Black consumers be a double standard? There are loads of non-Black owned companies marketing directly to the African American community, so much so that we often forget they’re not Black owned. Take your local beauty supply store, you know the major names, many of us patronize them weekly, if not multiple times a week, but the mere thought of an African American brand intentionally seeking out the White community or other non-Black communities, we’re dishing out the scarlet S.O letters, commonly known as ‘sell out.’
Or what about are our not-so-beloved urban brands? Fashion brands like Baby Phat, House of Dereon and Apple Bottoms are quickly given the ‘I’m so above that’ diss season after season. Many African American fashionistas wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a House of Dereon dress to one of the social events of the summer. But we’ll be ready to fight over a Diane Von Fursenberg wrap dress at a sample sale. Our common excuse: “the clothing is cheap and doesn’t suit my lifestyle.” But have we even attempted to give these brands a chance?
Feelings of betrayal
Why is there a feeling of betrayal, disrespect or down right hypocrisy when some Black business owners choose to market to non-Blacks? We’re not talking about our second cousin’s booming self-tanning business, were referring to companies selling products and services that the African Americans regularly use, or could be in need of. Could it be because we come from a cultural experience where owning a Black business was a sense of pride? We love to support the local restaurant soul food or not every brunch Sunday. We love to feel the spirit of home with Black art on the walls and the smiling Black hostess who shows you to your table. Or the neighborhood Black-owned art gallery who sells the works of Jamel Shabazz and Hank Willis exclusively, who we can always count on for that young professional or student discount and the best monthly wine tastings. But these are local businesses with projected local earnings. What of the companies who are attempting to take it global and marketing to Blacks only just won’t cut it?
Whose to Blame?
Thing is, most progressive African American consumers aren’t asking for mainstream African American brands or any brand for that matter to market to Blacks only. Likewise most educated consumers of color just want to see a some kind of commitment to diversity. The real question is, in 2010, why is it still presumed there are no cultured or savvy African American consumers in the marketplace that can afford the products and services these mainstream and/or luxury companies are selling? The go-to excuse is always, “they don’t buy our products.” But is this really a reason not to diversify marketing strategies and advertising campaigns?
Ultimately, research shows African American consumers will purchase products and services whether companies market to them or not. With African American buying power said to be approaching $1 Trillion, perhaps it’s time to point the finger at ourselves.
Do you a have a problem with Black businesses who market to non-Blacks?