Black consumers are proving to be one of the most valuable demographic segments, but most businesses don’t market directly to them.
As Black spending power is projected to greatly increase in the coming decade, it’s an increasingly important demographic to market to. Not only that, but throughout the past century, Black consumers have been the trendsetters for popular products and styles for American culture as a whole.
What Black Consumers Look for in Brands
Of course, Black people don’t all look for the same things in the companies with which they spend their money. Each individual is going to have their own values and preferences. That being said, when McKinsey looked at the most common values that Black consumers look for in brands, it found that they tend to prefer brands that are “trustworthy, have a clear social mission, appeal to their cultural values, and generally have credibility among the Black community.”
“Credibility among the Black community” is something you have to earn. It isn’t something you can attain with a single 30-second ad. It takes sustained behavior that shows you’re a company that cares about the Black community.
Some Campaigns Are Better Than Others at Incorporating Social Justice Messaging
Especially in the case of large corporations or companies with little diversity at the highest levels of management, it can be difficult to market to Black consumers without seeming like they’re pandering to them.
For this reason, it’s crucial to have input and feedback from Black people when conceptualizing ad campaigns targeted at Black consumers. Ace Metrix looked at a series of campaigns that were either Black-focused or had Black Lives Matter imagery and used a variety of factors to score them on how much they were empowering Black people or exploiting them.
One of the worst ads they looked at in terms of being exploitative was from the NBA and showed players participating in Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
“I like the ad but what was the purpose? They didn’t specify exactly what they were going to do to make these changes. It didn’t feel sincere. Anybody can say anything but actions are louder than words. When I see changes being made I will believe them and support them,” said a female in the 16-20 age range.
Social Justice Messages Aren’t Enough; There Needs to Be Some Tangible Activism Behind It
Although the depictions were of real players (employees of the company) taking part in the protests of their own volition, it still felt like it was pandering. Usually when a company highlights its real-life Black employees, it comes across as authentic but not in this case. It may have something to do with the fact that people see the players as and entity separate from the league itself, and the ad didn’t point to anything about how the league is going to help.
The lesson here is, if you’re going to make an ad depicting Black Lives Matter imagery or some other form of activism, just having some stock footage of a march is not enough. You have to provide some information about how your company is contributing to the cause. It could be donations or an initiative, but it can’t be nothing. Depicting Black people marching for racial justice but not supporting that cause yourself is exploitative almost by definition.
One of the best ads that Ace Metrix looked at was by Coca-Cola. It depicted examples of Black people helping their communities or excelling in a field that they are historically not associated with.
Because of the fact that these ads are from big corporations, people are already going to have the assumption that they’re exploitative and inauthentic. For that reason, this Coca-Cola ad having an Empower score of 4.1 and an Exploit score of 1.4 is probably about as good as an ad can do.
Ways to Appeal to Black Consumers Beyond Marketing
Have a staff that is representative of the community in which it’s based. If you have a store in a predominantly Black area but have a mostly White staff, then that could be off-putting to Black consumers. It gives the appearance of discriminatory hiring practices, even if that’s not the case and the racial makeup of the staff is purely coincidental.
Carry products from Black-owned companies, and have partnerships with Black-owned companies. As the old adage goes: Actions speak louder than words. While you can express your support for Black social justice movements through advertising, doing these things shows consumers that you’re being genuine when you market yourself as a company that cares about Black people. Consumers will sooner or later see through disingenuous marketing, so it’s best to actually walk the walk.
People are increasingly conscious of how spending their money at a company is, in a way, implicit support of its actions. A generation ago, you would’ve never heard about people boycotting companies because their owners made donations to certain political candidates or were against certain social justice movements. People are conscious about where their money is going, so show them that you’re a company worth supporting.