Highlighting Excellence in Black-Focused Marketing Campaigns

See how some of the best ad campaigns of today and years past were able to highlight Black culture.

Black-focused marketing campaigns are a powerful tool for marketing to Black consumers, and often-times the vehicle by which Black representation in media increases. These are not just campaigns that are trying to sell Black people a product. They are campaigns that were either conceptualized by Black people or were groundbreaking in the way that they represented Black culture to the nation at large.

Campaigns of the Past

Although Black representation in media is not yet where we’d like it to be, we have come a long way, and there are a few notable TV campaigns that have helped make strides in terms of portraying Black culture on a national stage.

Nike: Spike and Mike

This TV ad campaign began in 1988 and had several iterations over the following years. The stylized black-and-white-film commercial featured Michael Jordan and movie director Spike Lee, with the latter portraying the character Mars Blackmon, whom he played in his movie She’s Gotta Have It.


The scene opens on the two of them standing on a basketball court. Mars wants to know just one thing: What makes Michael Jordan “the best player in the universe”? He guesses: “Is it the vicious dunks? Is it the haircut?” to which Jordan always replies: “No, Mars.” Soon, Mars fixates on Jordan’s (obviously Nike) shoes.

It brought together the most culturally impactful Black athlete with the most culturally impactful Black movie director. Not only was this great for Black representation, but it was also an extremely effective ad. The line “It’s gotta be the shoes” is an iconic line that is still part of the cultural zeitgeist today. I’ve heard “It’s gotta be the shoes” dozens of times, but never knew where it came from until writing this.

Even when Michael Jordan took a hiatus from basketball in 1994 to play minor-league baseball in the Chicago White Sox organization, the campaign adapted. The ad opens like the original; only, Jordan isn’t in the basketball gym. When Mars realizes this, it cuts to him and Jordan on a baseball field. Rather than using B-roll of Jordan majestically dunking, it’s a series of baseball gaffes. Mars is in the stands sitting next to a series of baseball legends, saying: “He’s no Ken Griffey,” to which Ken Griffey, Jr., responds: “But he’s trying.”

McDonald’s: Double Dutch

This was one of the earliest instances of a nationally televised commercial from a major corporation that primarily targeted Black consumers. The marketing firm Burrell McCain was formed in 1971 with the goal of helping companies realize that Black and White consumers can be marketed to differently. Founder Tom Burrell, a pioneer for Black people working in advertising, said many times: “Black people are not dark-skinned White people.” The message, of course, being that there are cultural differences, and advertisers should pretend there aren’t at their own peril.

The commercial shows a Black family sitting on the family home’s front steps when the four young girls decide to play double dutch. They jump to the beat of a song listing different McDonald’s menu items. More and more people gather around to watch while they enjoy eating their McDonald’s. Yes, it marketed to Black consumers, but it also portrayed Black people positively. They were smiling and having fun. While targeted at Black consumers, it became wildly popular among all demographics.

Campaigns of the Present

Here are some Black-focused marketing campaigns that have come out in just the past few years that are building on what those of decades past have.

Ford: Built Phenomenally

The challenge for companies that aren’t Black-owned with marketing to Black consumers is that their campaigns can come across as disingenuous, patronizing, and even offensive if done incorrectly enough. One way to get around this problem is to bring in an outside advertising firm; though, what the Ford Motor Company did was put together a creative team of Black people — more specifically, Black women — who already worked for the company. They were in charge of conceptualizing and executing the campaign.

The result was the Built Phenomenally campaign marketing the Ford Escape and highlighting the very women who were working on the commercials. The TV, social media, and print campaign portrays them simply performing their roles at Ford. As the video pans to each woman, text on the bottom third of the screen appears, showing each woman’s name and title. By using real people in the ad and highlighting the great work they’re doing, it came across as authentic, because it really was.

Coca-Cola: The Change

This 60-second TV ad depicts “the unbreakables,” “the voices of courage,” and “the ones changing the face of the game.” It shows real examples of Black people who are either helping their communities or excelling in a field in which Black people are underrepresented.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to large corporations having a Black-focused ad campaign is coming across as authentic without pandering, virtue signaling, or using Black people as props so they can sell a product. Ace Metrix used a variety of metrics, including focus-group interviews, to weigh the degree to which an ad was empowering versus exploiting Black people, and this Coca-Cola campaign was the most empowering that it had analyzed. 

Much like Ford’s Built Phenomenally campaign, it used real-life examples such as Simone Manuel, an Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, and Terence Lester, an advocate for the homeless. By using real-life examples, it is more genuinely empowering.

Sephora: Black Beauty Is Beauty

Sephora had the great idea to create an ad campaign on how Black people have contributed to the beauty industry. It shows how Black women have contributed to popular styles of clothing, makeup, hair, and other beauty products throughout the years. Other companies could take notes from this campaign.

Regardless of the industry, Black people in this country have made huge contributions that have gone largely unrecognized.

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