by Norm Bond
For New Pittsburgh Courier
(NNPA)—The African-American consumer market represents the largest emerging market in the world. With revenues projected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2012 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, this market segment has more retail purchasing power than Mexico, a nation to which many U.S. companies are beating a path.
The segment has richly rewarded many retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. Indeed the African-American consumer has built entire television networks, established new fashion trends and revolutionized the use of consumer electronic and communication tools from pagers to cell phones.
We’ve “passed the Courvoisier,” “put a ring on it” and had “everybody in the club getting tipsy.” We’ve made the words “bling-bling” part of the popular culture, created a market for overpriced football jerseys (“throwbacks”) and made more ways to wear jeans than Levi could have ever imagined. But what have we received in return? I guess we’d better “blame it on the alcohol.”
This is why the actions of companies like General Motors are so disturbing today. The notion of Black people driving Cadillacs is part of the lexicon within the African-American culture. The brand has been a status symbol for the aspiration of Black leaders from Baptist preachers, to organization leaders to today’s “Ballers” whose whip of choice is the Cadillac Escalade. With such extreme brand loyalty from a segment that over-indexes and contributes 24 percent to the companies’ market share, you would expect willingness, even a strong demonstrated desire by the company to reciprocate. In a challenging economic environment why not go to our base? Look to further build a “relationship” and partner in new and more creative ways. Would it be too much to ask for support of the things that are of interest to your loyal consumers including the institutions and media outlets that deliver the messages? Clearly not, however, the research shows just the opposite. GM has taken the loyalty of the African-American consumer for granted.
Even in the boom years, the company did not spend a commensurate share of its annual advertising budget with Black-owned media outlets. And now, in tough economic times we have learned of the nearly $3 billion the company spends in annual advertising, it spent an insulting $35 million, about a third of one percent, with Black-owned media. This represents on third of a penny, for every $100 it receives from Black consumers who buy GM vehicles. The company recently received $50 billion in government bail-out monies, tax-payer dollars, many of whom are African-American but the company is still refusing to increase its advertising spend with this core-demographic segment that has been “ride or die” with the GM brands—the African-American consumer.
Some would play “devil’s advocate” and say—why should they? Why should a company, for example, that has 95 percent penetration into the African-American consumer market and spend $0 in advertising directed toward this group—support Black-owned media? Surely, their research and consultants will tell them “we can put those dollars to better use elsewhere.” Besides, what do they have to lose?
I would argue—they could lose a lot. Particularly if these same African-American consumers start to wake up, become conscious of their influence, and start to leverage their consumer retail spending power in an effective manner. Definitely, if leaders like Danny Bakewell and the NNPA, are able to use the same medium available to these companies, the Black Press of America and inform their readers of the atrocity of continuing to blindly support companies that don’t respect our institutions, our community, nor our Black-owned media outlets. Certainly, if responsible Black elected officials like the Congressional Black Caucus are willing to call to task the senior management of General Motors and demand an accounting for the gross inequities of their faulty marketing and advertising practices, companies that follow these outmoded strategies stand to lose even more than profits and market share.
But can Black consumers toe the line? Recently, John and Maggie Anderson of Chicago answered this question. As an upper middle-class African-American family they decided they were tired of just talking about the inequities many of us see every day. They launched the “Empowerment Experiment” and for an entire year “lived off Black-owned businesses and professional services.” This simple act by one family has grown and sparked renewed interest in the possibilities of creating new solutions by seeking out and supporting Black-owned businesses. Perhaps General Motors should take notice. Some will refuse to sit idly, watch and complain as our businesses, our institutions and our community continues to deteriorate and we spend billions of consumer retail dollars with companies that don’t share our values. Indeed the growth of the Empowerment Experiment is proof positive that a new way of thinking is beginning to take root within the African-American community and from a new vanguard of leaders.
This fresh, new leadership is rooted in the visionary action of Rev. Leon Sullivan, the founder of OIC and developer of the Sullivan Principles which helped end apartheid in South Africa. It’s rooted in the commitment to action of Black business owners who realize that a “jobless recovery” means that the African-American community must find ways to generate jobs from within its own base by increasing the number of new businesses that are created. It’s rooted in new organization leaders who are building local, regional, national and global networks using social media, traditional media, and their personal networks to create a new balance of power. This group is moving forward with a firm belief that if the question is—can Black consumers toe the line and crate new mutually beneficial relationships with companies that respect their interests? Then the answer is, “Yes we can!”