My path led me to a job selling Yellow Page ads, which helped me to understand advertising channels, and then to a direct mail marketing firm targeting African Americans. With that experience, I made the jump into the agency world as an account executive with Chisholm-Mingo Group, one of a handful minority-owned agencies in New York.
That opened the door to a career in multicultural agencies, where I was blessed to work with multicultural marketing icons up close, including Byron Lewis Sr., Carol H. Williams, Jo Muse, Herbert Kemp Jr., Samuel J. Chisholm, Pepper Miller and Charles “Chuck” E. Morrison. I also met brilliant advertising minds who were unsung outside of the multicultural world. They taught me that the value you bring as a professional marketer has nothing to do with where you work, but how you work and the intellectual rigor you bring to the discussion.
What multicultural marketing brings to the mainstream
I’ve witnessed a lot of changes to marketing in 25 years, but the role and purpose of integrated communications remains the same. All consumer-facing communication, multicultural or otherwise, is designed to get someone to think something or do something … it’s that simple.
With that in mind, I’m keenly aware of how the approaches created and implemented by the pioneers I learned from have become standard practice for targeted communications for forward-thinking marketers.
Early in my career, I often got the impression from headhunters and general market agency professionals that multicultural advertising experience was considered “less than.” However, my experience working in collaborative groups often revealed that the systematic approaches of multicultural marketers used to uncover unique insights for specific audiences practiced in these agencies provided an additional layer of understanding that was embraced by our general market partners.
Often, the ideas originally generated by multicultural partners became the foundational approaches used in both targeted and general market outreach. Campaigns such as KFC’s “We Do Chicken Right” by Mingo-Jones, McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” from Burrel and Budweiser’s “Whassup?” campaign from Charles Stone III (African American filmmaker) all had their origins in multicultural shops.
I’ve personally seen that thinking brought to life. As the media environment has become more fragmented and media consumption habits have become less defined by race, targeted marketing has evolved to an understanding of culture and lifestyle. For example, several years ago, I led the FDA Center for Tobacco Product’s “Real Cost” campaign aimed at reducing the use of smokeless tobacco among white rural males aged 12 to 17.
On the surface, you don’t get more mainstream than 12- to 17-year-old white males. However, the lifestyle of rural Americans is unique and represents a culture all its own. Like many ethnic audiences, there was an existing research gap that required a methodical approach of primary research to understand the attitudes and perceptions that contribute to this unique health issue.
We used to ask ourselves a question in my first agency job, meant to ensure we were meeting the unique needs of our target audience: “What’s Black about it?” That phrase, with some obvious changes, applies to virtually every market you’re trying to reach. I’ve since worked on general market, Hispanic, Asian, African American, LGTBQ and other targeted campaigns to unique and hard-to-reach audiences. The audiences change, but the thinking still applies.
The national dialog about racial equity in America and existing disparities has been elevated over the last year and a half. One of those disparities is in the relative lack of acknowledgement for what these visionaries brought to advertising. The influence and power of media and marketing in shaping society cannot be overstated. During Black History Month, a recognition of the African American pioneers who have shaped the advertising industry is appropriate and overdue.
Subscribe to Ad Age now for award-winning news and insight.