How Coke Is Targeting Black Consumers

Q&A With Yolanda White, Assistant VP of African-American Marketing

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Coca-Cola re-established a dedicated African-American marketing group in 2006. The beverage giant has spent the past few years testing programs and conducting market research. And in the first half of this year, those efforts have come to fruition, with four new campaigns for the Dasani and Coca-Cola brands.

Yolanda White
Yolanda White
"Three years ago, we began to see new evidence of growing population, growing buying and growing power in income," said Yolanda White, assistant VP of African-American marketing. "We also saw significant [interest] in emerging categories, which made this consumer segment that much more viable for us as a company. So we really began to rebuild our strategic focus and realign our organizational capabilities to go after this consumer more holistically."

Ms. White's dedicated group of five people -- three additional employees are shared with the Hispanic-marketing division -- has a seemingly herculean task, working across the company's numerous billion-dollar brands. But Ms. White says the arrangement has its advantages. The group has a deep understanding of the demographic and is able to measure the total impact of African-American marketing efforts. Here, Ms. White also talks more about that, the impact President Barack Obama is having and why general-market agencies are ceasing to exist.

Ad Age: The four campaigns you've done so far this year focus on moms and teens. Why?

Ms. White: Among African-American consumers, African-American moms are the gatekeeper to the household. We over-index in single-family households, and so reaching Mom is critical. Teens really are the future of America, and African-American teens, in particular, have proven to be trendsetters in the U.S. Their ability to shape culture is really critical.

Ad Age: What sorts of results are you seeing from those campaigns?

Ms. White: We're really focused on building loyalty and building share. And our numbers are showing that we're doing both. We are the beverage leader among African-American consumers. And if you look at how we're performing vs. our competition, we are outperforming them on both volume and value. We're seeing our equity numbers grow. One of the things that's not as measurable but is really important is we're also seeing really strong organic integration of our brands in relevant African-American spaces.

Ad Age: What trends do you see in the African-American market?

Ms. White: All consumers right now are experiencing some struggles and strife. We are seeing some of that accelerating with the African-American consumer, in terms of the way that they have to manage time and how they have to manage their family, given that they're maintaining more jobs and balancing at home issues. ... The Obama effect is another trend we're seeing in the marketplace. That's helping African-Americans feel more in tune with Americans and more a part of American society. Another general trend that we are seeing is the fact that multicultural consumers are sharing more of their culture with the total population.

Ad Age: What agencies do you work with?

Ms. White: We work with several agencies. There's no dedicated agency, due to the complexity of managing multiple brands. We have African-American agencies, but we also have a plethora of other agencies that work on the business.

Coca-Cola: Toast

Coca-Cola: Toast

Ad Age: Do you think general-market shops can adequately speak to this demographic?

Ms. White: What is interesting is that, if you look at society today, there really is no general market. The market is really multicultural. It's really important for all agencies to have a pulse on the total population as it exists and on what's happening. If they don't, it really prohibits the agency's ability to be at the forefront of pop culture and to tap into relevant trends, which could have an impact on the long-term growth of a company.

Ad Age: Do you feel that African-American or multicultural shops bring something unique to the table?

Ms. White: Absolutely; we use them. All of our agencies bring something unique.

Ad Age: Are marketers taking the lead in encouraging agencies to diversify?

Ms. White: Diversity as a whole is important for the Coca-Cola Co. And as a company we're in full support of where the advertising-industry efforts are moving, in order to increase their diversity.

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