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Television ads for Colgate-Palmolive's Total Advanced Fresh toothpaste, one of its top-selling products, featured two couples: a Caucasian one and an African American one. But when the consumer-products company rolled out its print campaign in the fall, it sent out only ads with a white man and a white woman — even to black magazines.

After Ebony published the ads in its November 2003 issue, readers contacted the magazine to complain. So, Jeff Burns, associate publisher and senior vice president of advertising of the 1.7-million circulation publication, called Colgate-Palmolive managers to let them know that he thought that their ad agency had made a mistake by not sending a print ad featuring the black couple.

“A lot of people questioned why when this campaign featured an African American couple on TV it didn't have an African American couple in the prints ads,� Burns says. “Traditionally, Colgate-Palmolive has been doing a very good job. It spends money and is involved in the African American market, but every now and then, something happens.�

Colgate-Palmolive makes an effort to include various ethnic groups in its national advertising campaigns. A black couple, in fact, is prominently displayed on its Web site advertising Total toothpaste. But African American magazine execs and industry experts say the company's misstep is the latest example of how major advertisers still have a way to go to effectively reach African American readers. (Colgate-Palmolive didn't respond to calls. Essence magazine, with a circulation of a little more than 1 million, also ran the ad but didn't receive any complaints.)

Many national advertisers don't think they need to spend money placing ads in African American magazines to reach African Americans, while others that do buy space don't think they have to spend as much as they do in comparable mainstream ones. “What is true is that they don't get the level of support that their white counterparts get,� says Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago-based marketing research firm specializing in the black consumer market.

Smikle estimates that companies spend $1.7 billion on ads targeted at African American consumers. About $400 million of that is spent on magazine advertising. “There are advertisers who value that market,� he says, “then there are others that simply haven't stepped up to the plate.�

“The term is consumer racism,� says Alfred Edmond, editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise, a 34-year-old African American business publication with a circulation of 500,000. “There are the same demographics, but two different audiences: one black and one white. Advertisers don't feel as though they have to spend as much to reach the black audience.�

Black Enterprise, for instance, wasn't able to snag ads from Dell Inc. and Microsoft Corp. until after some mainstream business publications folded after the dot-com debacle, including Industry Standard, Smart Business and Time Inc.'s E-company, which later merged its operations with Business 2.0. Edmond says his magazine wasn't hit as hard by the loss of high-tech advertisers, because it didn't have them in the first place. “The reason why we lost less is because we had less to begin with,� he says. “The disparity in terms of advertising worked in our favor.�

It's not that corporate America is consciously ignoring African American magazines. In some respects, industry observers say, they just don't know that they're there, or that they're important to African American consumers. That's because their ad buyers, who are mainly white, simply aren't familiar with the ethnic market. “Lack of education seems to be the biggest issue,� says Linda Jefferson, senior vice president and director of media services at Burrell Communications, a Chicago ad agency that works with advertisers on multiracial accounts.

“You have young associate brand managers and young media planners at agencies and they're not as educated as they should be about African American media,� Jefferson says. “They don't know who is the consumer, the media and the role these vehicles play in African American lives. So, a constant reeducation process has to happen.�

Part of that education includes dispelling the assumption that if advertisers buy space in mainstream publications, they reach African Americans. “The overriding assumption is that the general market is spilling into the African American marketplace,� Jefferson says. “So, there's no need to segment or find a way into these markets. General market is an euphemism for non-racial, non-multicultural market segments.�

Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., and a magazine consultant, agrees that as African Americans become more included in the main culture, advertisers don't think they have to rely on black publications to reach them. “The media is much more integrated,� he says. “You see Beyoncé and other African Americans in People magazine and other mainstream magazines. That's the major trend with any specialty: when it becomes mainstream, it loses its specialty.�

But general market advertising doesn't necessarily mean advertisers make an impression on black consumers, says Smikle. “General market advertising as viewed by African Americans is like mail addressed to ‘occupant,’� he says. “It's as though they're saying, ‘We know you're there, but we're not addressing you.’ When I see a commercial or an ad, I want to see someone who looks like me. This is an age-old marketing fundamental.�

Ebony's Burns points out that Roper ASW's Starch research on brand effectiveness proves magazine advertising is more effective if it targets the readers. Advertisers' Starch scores are higher with African American consumers in Ebony than in mainstream magazines, he says. “African Americans may read general market publications for their editorial content, but they're not concerned about the ads; they're not specifically designed for them,� Burns says. “When you place an ad in Ebony, readers know its' specifically for them.

By not advertising in such established African American publications, as Black Enterprise, Ebony, Essence and Jet, corporations are overlooking a vibrant consumer market. African Americans spend about $543 billion a year, according to 2000 figures from Target Market News. (There are a little more than 38 million African Americans.) “If black America was a country, it would rank No. 11 in gross national income behind Spain,� Burns says. “This is an untapped market of opportunity.�

Besides, Burns says, African Americans tend to buy more of certain products and services than the general population. Black women, for instance, tend to buy more cosmetics, fragrances, oral hygiene products and feminine care items, he says. “We're over-indexing in certain product categories, but are advertisers taking advantage of that?� he asks. “No, they are not.�

With less advertising support, African American publications face more challenges than their general-market counterparts. “That's a given,� says Black Enterprises' Edmond. “That's the hurdle you have to get over.�

It seemed that 4-year-old Vanguarde Media, Inc. had cleared that hurdle. The New York City-based company published three successful publications aimed at the African American audience: Heart & Soul, a health and wellness magazine for women, Honey, a fashion and style magazine for young urban women, and Savoy, a style and fashion magazine for men. Together they reportedly had 1 million readers.

But Vanguarde ran into financial problems after its main backer, Provender Capital Group, a New York venture capital firm, refused to invest more money in the company. (Calls to Vanguarde weren't returned by press time.) As a result, in late November, the company filed for Chapter11 bankruptcy protection and its publications shut down their operations.

Yet, Vanguarde's demise wasn't a result of lack of advertiser support. The firm's magazines posted significant increases in their ad pages and revenue through October compared with the same period the previous year, according to The Deal, a New York business publication. That's why Jefferson says she thinks the Vanguarde publications will be revived at some point. The advertising exec says some of her clients, which include McDonald's, Toyota and Procter & Gamble, were the first ones to buy pages in Vanguarde's magazines. “We were their charter advertisers,� she says. “We were at the table at the inception.�

With Vanguarde closing its publicatons, there's more need for African American consumer magazines than ever before.“Readers are out there,� says Edmond, who adds that his wife is disappointed that there are so few magazines for black women. “We're hungry.�

If advertisers are as hungry to reach African Americans, maybe they should consider taking up more space in their publications.

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