Brands Need to Collaborate With Black Creators and Consumers

This means putting African-Americans in ads the same way you’d feature a white actor

Oreo is one example of a brand using black actors in a natural way, the same way they would with white actors. - Credit by Oreo
Headshot of Carl Agers

African-Americans greatly influence the consumer landscape, from fashion to travel to music. As an incredibly diverse consumer group, we don’t fit into a single multicultural segment, instead spanning every demographic and sociographic. And in the last decade, we’ve evolved dramatically from being passive consumers to active participants in shaping the direction and purpose of brands.

A few major factors have contributed to this shift in black America in the past decade. Contrary to popular media depictions, black Americans are far wealthier and more highly educated than ever before.

According to a Nielsen study, between 2016 and 2018, black college enrollment rates increased 11 percent compared to the 1 percent of whites. As a result, African-American buying power will rise to $1.54 trillion by 2022, a five-year estimated growth of 21 percent versus 18 percent for non-Hispanic whites, as found in Selig Center’s 2017 report.

We have also been participating in the power of digital and technology at faster rates than white Americans, specifically in video and audio streaming, gaming and smartphone ownership. The digital democratization of the American voice is most profound among black Americans. The social issues of yesterday and today are fueled by citizen media, with black people leading the way.

So, what does this mean for brands seeking to build and grow? First and foremost, brands must recognize and embrace the power of black Americans as a driving force as both consumers and creators. By doing so, brands can then begin to reach us authentically and involve us as co-creators in the brand narrative.

Brands must recognize and embrace the power of black Americans as a driving force as both consumers and creators.

We are increasingly exposed to advertising and marketing that include models and talent that happen to be black, but these ads aren’t black ads like we’ve seen throughout history. It is far more appealing to most black consumers to see themselves represented as part of the American zeitgeist and not simply segregated to black media.

For example, Buick shows African-Americans in their ads with no difference in lifestyle than that of the white models. A recent Oreo commercial also hits the mark with its story of some of the most professional and successful parents of all colors, working to balance career distractions and family commitments. While the dad in the ad happens to be rap producer and performer Wiz Khalifa, this isn’t a black ad or a rap ad but rather an ad depicting a father-son moment that includes a black rapper.

While black Americans are undeniable consumers of goods and services, we are also voracious consumers of digital media in all its forms. We spend more time researching technology, engaging in social media and creating social narratives than any other group. The evolution of black Twitter demonstrates this mobilization of black culture and identity, with 40 percent of African-Americans active on Twitter, comprising 28 percent of Twitter’s 67 million users. As a result, brands should invite more black people to the table to help shape their contemporary brand narrative for every demographic and psychographic.

More than any other ethnic group, black Americans are using technology to drive the social consciousness of our country, demonstrating an authentic social awareness that may help brands connect to us as consumers. Forty-one percent of African-Americans aged 35-plus expect the brands they buy from to support social causes, according to the previously mentioned Nielsen study. Brands will have to demonstrate their willingness to dive into social discussions to appeal to black audiences.

I urge brands to harness the power of the black community by opening themselves up to co-creation and exploration with black America. Tap into our community’s immense power to identify, create and shape trends. The obvious inroad is via athletes and entertainers, but even richer opportunities lie with entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors. Professionals in vocation constantly set the tone for which brands Americans find appealing. Brands that scale by following where black consumers lead will reap success in sustainable and authentic ways.

Carl Agers is svp, marketing services at Hero Digital.