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Waking Up To A Major Market



The 1990 census has spotlighted the power of black consumers

For years, Pamela Chambers mixed and blended her own makeup using various brands. She had to. None of the commercially available foundations the Pittsburgh resident tried was quite right for her mahogany-brown skin. But after a recent trip to the Prescriptives cosmetics counter in a local department store, Chambers went home with a $28.50 bottle of makeup. "For the first time, I have a foundation that matches my color," she says.

Prescriptives Inc., a subsidiary of Estee Lauder Inc., got Pamela Chambers' business thanks to the All Skins line that it launched last fall. Offering 115 different shades, All Skins hopes for a big chunk of the $600 million or so black women spend each year on cosmetics. "We want to take care of everybody," explains Sylvie Chantecaille, senior executive of creative marketing at Prescriptives. Chantecaille credits All Skins for a 45% increase in Prescriptives' sales over the past seven months. Meanwhile, rival Maybelline Co.'s Shades of You, a line for blacks launched last spring, sold $15 million in its first ten months.

Maybelline and Estee Lauder have joined other corporations such as J. C. Penney, Mattel, Pillsbury, and Quaker Oats in what is shaping up to be a second wave of black-targeted marketing. True, a few leaders in the soft-drink, fast-food, automobile, and alcohol industries have long targeted black consumers, as have a few smaller, often black-owned niche marketers. But the vast majority of major marketers figured that since most blacks are native English speakers, they'd be effectively reached by mass-market campaigns. As a result, most did little more than sprinkle a few black actors in ads conceived for a white-dominated audience.

The 1990 census changed all that by focusing marketers' attention on the growing importance of minorities. The African-American population is the nation's largest ethnic group (chart). It's growing at twice the rate of whites. And as the white population gets older, the median age of blacks will continue to hover in the 18-to-35 range that many mass marketers covet.

These trends translate into clout. In 1990, African-Americans earned about $263 billion. "Those are numbers that cannot be ignored," says Amy Hilliard-Jones, who has been revamping Pillsbury Co.'s black-directed marketing. And marketers are increasingly aware that they need to make special efforts to reach that audience. "As we learn more about ethnic marketing, we realize that traditional marketing programs are not as effective as targeted programs," says John Ball, general manager of ethnic marketing at Quaker Oats Co.

NEW JACK. The challenge is to turn this growing awareness into marketing successes. One way: Realize that "black people are not dark-skinned white people," says Thomas J. Burrell, president of Burrell Communications Group in Chicago, which specializes in marketing to blacks. Looking for insights into the black market, companies such as Toys 'R' Us, Kmart, and Pillsbury have hired black-owned agencies for the first time.

Pillsbury executives, for example, had never gauged blacks' response to the white lumberjack character who hawked their Hungry Jack pancake and biscuit products. When they did, they discovered "there were blacks using our products, but they weren't using them to the same level as the general population," says Hilliard-Jones.

So Pillsbury banished the lumberjack in test ads by black-run agency Uniworld for black consumers. Instead, the ads run a colorfully printed slogan, "You look Hungry Jack," and feature a black family eating together.

Some marketers are also trying out new products that tap into a rising interest in Africa. Starting last December, Dallas-based J. C. Penney Co. has tested 20 "Authentic African" boutiques in its hometown and other cities such as Jersey City, N.J., and Cleveland where blacks represent 20% or more of the population. The tiny shops, which are located inside J. C. Penney stores, featured clothing, handbags, hats, and other accessories that are imported from West Africa.

One problem: The stores have sold out of nearly all their initial $250,000 in merchandise. But Penney plans to restock for an August rollout in 50 to 150 stores. "Our customers really want this," says Bruce M. Ackerman, Penney's operations manager for merchandising. "It's brought in a lot of shoppers who wouldn't normally go into our store."

PREEMPTED? Other marketers are paying attention to stores where many blacks normally shop. Quaker is trying to boost its share by targeting grocery stores in neighborhoods its competitors have neglected. "Most inner-city stores are undermarketed," says Ball. Quaker has hired Segmented Marketing Services Inc., a black-owned promotions company, to visit the top stores in black neighborhoods to make sure Quaker products and promotional materials are well-displayed. For Quaker, Procter & Gamble Co., and others, SMSI distributes product samples through 7,000 black churches. SMSI executives say its revenues have doubled in each of the past three years, to more than $7 million.

Other black marketing entrepreneurs worry about being preempted by established white firms. Olmec Corp. is a New York-based toy manufacturer created by Yla Eason when she couldn't find a black superhero doll to buy her son. Her $2 million company markets more than 60 black and Hispanic dolls. Eason has a distribution partnership with Hasbro Inc.

She needed a strong partner because the giant toy companies now sense opportunity on her turf. Both Mattel Inc. and Tyco Industries Inc. now have dolls that are more than Barbies in darker plastic. Tyco just introduced Kenya, who comes with beads to adorn her cornrows. Her locks can also be straightened with a "magic lotion." Like a Mattel doll called Shani, Kenya comes in a choice of three complexions--light, medium, and dark. Shani also has a new boyfriend named Jamal.

That was a bit of a blow to Eason. She had been planning to name a doll Jamal. "There's a race to the Swahili dictionary going on," she says. It's also a race to woo an often-overlooked consumer.Maria Mallory in Pittsburgh with Stephanie Anderson Forest in Dallas

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