Just when the concept of marketing to Blacks was breathing its last dying breath, along comes Pepper Miller, researcher, author and CEO of The Hunter-Miller Group, galloping into the scene as the Joan of Arc of Black Consumer Marketing. Her mission: To save the reputation of Black consumerism by helping increase the cultural IQ about Black America to companies and advertisers. “Black Still Matters in Marketing” by Paramount Marketing Publishing, is her second foray into the publishing world. Pepper’s first book, “What’s Black About It?”, co-authored by the late Herb Kemp, was written during a time when Black insight was of higher value. The question then was, ‘How do we talk to Blacks?’ The question now is, ‘Should we talk to Blacks at all?’ “Black Still Matters” presents a fact-filled, insightful and persuasive case that marketing to African-Americans is still good business.
From the tremendous turnout of Pepper’s book signing/panel discussion, May 30th, at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History, now is the right time to start the discussion. Over 250 plus guests from broad spectrums of the marketing world packed the house. Included were a host of Fortune 500 companies and business professionals who either supported Pepper’s belief or were at least willing to engage in the dialogue.
Pepper’s list of sponsors, 13 in all, were impressive, including Comcast, BET, Statefarm, Macy’s and Bronner Brothers. Pepper’s panelists rounded out the event with insights of their own; N’Digo’s publisher/editor, Hermene Hartman, served as moderator. Panelists included: Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, SVP, Public Affairs & Government Relations, Nielsen; Mickey Brazeal, Professor of Multicultural Marketing, Roosevelt University; McGhee Williams Osse, Co-CEO, Burrell Communications; Kevin Giglinto, VP Strategy and Special Initiatives, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and Melody Spann Cooper, President of WVON radio, Chicago’s only African American-owned and run station. Pepper presented a synopsis of her book, and Hermene led the panel discussion. Some key takeaways were:
Language has become the cultural identifier. As the Latino population has grown, marketers see language rather than attitudes and behavior.
Different is not deficient. Identifying and speaking to what makes us different is not a bad thing. But an increasing number of marketers believe that growing up in a multicultural world with a Black President has created a post-racial society, therefore the advertising reflects that. But the reality is African-American cultures are still diverse and very different.
There exists The Invisible Middle, a vast market segment that marketers and society in general, have totally by-passed. That’s because Blacks are generally viewed in extremes. In “Black Still Matters”, Pepper writes, “…there are the high profile celebrities, entertainers, and sports figures on one side, and the impoverished, crime-ridden, and down and out on the other. This flawed perception results in the rest of us – The Invisible Middle – being ignored and marginalized…” This “Invisible Middle” is more than a homogenous group; we’re segmented by class, social economics, mindset and a number of subsegments that fly way under the average marketer’s radar: Black LGBTs, Black biracials, Black Immigrants, Boomers, etc..” One marketer who understands this is Tyler Perry. He has tapped into a group that marketers fail to see or acknowledge.
Professor Brazeal made an interesting statement, that Black marketers need to sell their position much better than they have been. As he puts it, who cares about brands? African-Americans do. Who tries things first? African-Americans do. Who tries new technology first, African-Americans do…
McGhee Williams Osse emphasized that the Black consumer must tell marketers that they want to see themselves represented in more advertising. Marketers won’t respond until Black consumers speak up.
Melody Spann Cooper felt that many advertisers give charity money. Charity money dries up. She urged Black marketers to convince advertisers to invest in African-American advertising. It makes good business sense.
Moving forward, the challenge will be to convince stubborn marketers that it is critical to their company and brands to increase their cultural IQ about Black America. Will they pick up the book, or more importantly, shift that paradigm? And will Black consumers and marketers who accepted the death of Black marketing, now advocate for its resurrection? If African-Americans take the ball and run with it, maybe Black will still matter where it matters most. You can purchase Pepper’s book at Blackstillmatters.com.
Follow me on Twitter @Edyeld