The need to look beyond Black History Month

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A time to honor; to reflect; to focus on the present social conditions of black America. Where has the reason for celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday and Black History Month gone?

January and February have now become the Super Bowl of advertising for African-American publications, advertisers and their African-American agencies. What is the rationale for this type of media plan? Is this the only way to build a relationship with the African-American consumer?

It does not take a media specialist to notice that the majority of the ads placed in African-American targeted publications during January and February are almost nonexistent the other 10 months of the year. Major advertisers, aware of the tremendous buying power of African-Americans, continue to ignore building relationships with the African-American consumer beyond token appreciation of our now glorious past.

How committed can a corporation be in placing a few pennies in these targeted publications in only the first quarter? Most still see minority advertising as showing how culturally sensitive they are toward African-Americans. Money is thrown into a secondary budget, many times from a corporate relations or human resources budget -- not advertising departments.

Keep in mind the decision-makers who decide which market receives how much advertising are some of the best marketing minds the industry has to offer. So why is it that instead of utilizing ads for Black History Month as an entree into the black community, it instead is the primary form of communications?

MORE THAN ADVERTISING

The advertising industry has multicultural panels, workshops, seminars and conferences on marketing to minorities. With all the education that is now available, I would hope these companies and their ad agencies realize it will take more than advertising during Black History Month to build a relationship with the African-American community. African-American consumers are intelligent enough to see that this is the only time of the year that many companies advertise to them.

Maybe marketing executives at these corporations are flat out smarter than me and think it a waste of money to advertise regularly to African-Americans. That would at least explain why corporations found a deep-rooted issue like Black History Month as a way to show African-Americans how well they understand them. It would also explain the poor quality of advertising that is created for Black History Month.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month may be politically correct, but do corporations understand what the struggle was and is for African-Americans?

INSULTING

It would not be so bad to commercialize Black History Month if corporations engaged in solid year-round communications to African-Americans. But to use it as a primary form of communication is insulting and disrespectful to the very people and movement corporations claim to honor.

The best way to honor Martin Luther King's dream is not to produce an ad with an excerpt from his speech. Honor Dr. King and great African-Americans who participated in the struggle for equality by treating the African-American consumer as you do other consumers. Speak to us as people -- not some group labeled minority. That would be a great salute to Black History Month.

Now if the designers of Black History Month marketing assignments want to throw money away by doing shabby pieces of communication one month out of the year, I guess I should not complain. It's at least a windfall for many African-American agencies.

But we are all supposed to be stewards of the marketing budgets that we control, and we have a fiduciary responsibility to educate our clients on whether money is being spent to garner results.

As African-American-owned ad agencies, we also have a responsibility to the African-American community to question the sincerity of the companies we represent, and to not allow Black History Month to be reduced to a headline and a photograph of a famous African-American. One simple test for agencies would be if your assignment comes out of the advertising department.

Mr. Franklin is president of Fuse, St. Louis, an integrated marketing, advertising and communications agency with a specialization in minority advertising.

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