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Black Consumer Market: Huge, Largely Untapped, Won Through Fair Representation

Only 26% of Black consumers feel that advertising does a good job of connecting with them, according to research by Yahoo!, and in cooperation with Advertising Age. Ford, State Farm, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and McDonalds all recognize the opportunity, but major brands as a whole miss the boat—and it’s a big boat. African Americans constitute 43 million people, up 41% since 1990, with a spending power of $1 trillion per year, up $53 billion over 2010.

Advertising Age issued its special report “The Black Consumer Opportunity” yesterday, and it offers some keen insights. Chief among them is how Black consumers use the Internet: They are far more likely to look for content geared to their ethnicity. Some 30% look for Black-specific web content, versus 20% for the general population. Another 28% looks for video content geared to Black consumers, versus 20% for the general population.

Why do they look online, and to cable channels like BET and CENTRIC? Because as important as it is for them to find identity, Black consumers do not find it in the media as a whole. According to a Time Warner/Cheskin study cited in the AdAge study, only 54% of African Americans agreed that Black culture is “very visible” across different media, while 60% between the ages of 25 and 34 finds that perspective very important, if they are to consume the media. As the report authors observed, that is true of brands as well. “Black consumers are not loyal to a brand, per se, but rather to the image of a brand that they find compatible; thus, it is the relationship that inspires their loyalty.”

Neither are they convinced by the occasional nod to their culture. As Alexandra Vegas, multicultural marketing director for Procter & Gamble wrote for the report, “My advice to marketers is to make African-American consumers a strategic part, not a tactical part, of your marketing. To win with this group you need to support them consistently, not just during Black History Month.” Among P&G brands, Tide has conducted African American-targeted advertising for more than 30 years; Pantene, for over a decade.
But the message must be authentic, and not “cookie cutter.” As Vicangelo Bulluck, a TV producer and executive direct of the NAACP Hollywood bureau said for this report, “They want the media to show the community is not monolithic, that there are lots of perspectives and viewpoints. That is the real cry about stereotypical portrayals.” A single portrayal (young=hip hop), “Then it is not a good representation of the African-American experience.”

The Mobile/Digital Opportunity
Comedienne Issa Rae is a Black woman, and what iMedia calls “a true digital success story.” Her web series "The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl" launched in February 2011, where it makes money through the YouTube RevShare program, and won the Shorty award for Best Webshow in March.

Rae told iMedia that she sees digital entertainment as providing “tons of opportunities” for minorities. “Traditional media isn't really paying attention to people of color in terms of content. Digital entertainment allows us to tell our own stories and find our own audiences.” Rae believes the big breaks for content are in the platforms—YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

Just a day after the AdAge report, eMarketer published an article this morning entitled “Black Consumers Active, Engaged on Mobile.” As eMarketer describes, Black consumers were early adopters of smartphone technology, though the rest of the U.S. population has caught up. Still, they have a higher-than-average propensity to use a smartphone as a chief means of going online. A year-long survey by Experian Simmons, which wrapped up in November 2011, revealed that Black mobile phone owners were far more likely than white counterparts to agree that “I use my [mobile] phone in many different ways to get the information I need,” (46.7% vs. 38.7%) and that “My [mobile] phone connects me to my social world,” (38.4% vs. 32.2%). Also true, that young Black consumers (18 to 34) identify themselves as strong mobile users far more than 35 to 49-year-old Black consumers.

So the opportunity is not just in the size of the black consumer market; but in its connectivity and habits.

The upshot of all these reports is that the Black consumer is that the brands that are winning some of that $1 trillion actively reach black consumers. Those consumers are hungry for authentic content; connects with brands that represent them rather than just nod to them; and are highly engaged with digital content and the mobile platform.


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