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Has Webster’s Redefined Urban?

Where are the Black faces at Urban Outfitters?
  • February 10 2012

What do you think of when you hear the word “urban?” Inner-city? Rap, hip-hop or Black, perhaps?

I can’t imagine you think urban is defined by sad, blonde and brunette waifs, as retailer Urban Outfitter apparently does. A glimpse of the company’s February 2012 catalog proves that it includes “privileged white teenagers” in its definition of urban.

Pick up the catalog and see who is missing. The consumers Urban Outfitters apparently doesn’t need are Blacks, representing an expected $1.1 trillion buying dollars in 2012. (Btw, happy Black History Month.) Sadly, they aren’t alone.

We Black Americans do not see this as a marketing oversight. Marketers are savvy and they certainly know their stats so it’s either a deliberate signal that we and our trillions of dollars are not welcome (don’t want the “urban” brand to become “Black”) or they hope that the word “urban” is enough of a signal for us to come shop, but hope we’re blind to our own invisibility—the best of both worlds and a sweet ROI. I ruled out the possibility that they think their clothes cost too much. The New America has just too many affluent African-American families.

As the lead agency for the 2010 Census, Draftfcb has a unique, “insider” perspective on why the metrics uncovered in the most recent census matter so much to marketers. However, as an affluent African-American woman, I didn’t really need the census data to tell me what’s going on in America or in advertising. Despite having the Cosbys in The White House and a Cosby-like family myself, I’m still most often marketed to as an overweight, “sassy/angry” single Black woman. Every last element of that is way wrong!

Worse yet, our Black teenagers, who guide family purchase decisions, are not even looked upon as a brand loyal consumer group with whom retailers would want to build a life-long relationship.


The total Black population in America spends approximately $279 billion on consumer goods, but advertisers spend only about $865 million to reach us. The buying power of affluent African Americans is $87.3 billion. It would be a mistake to think of this affluent group as consisting solely of celebrities and sports stars. The affluent African-American consumers are corporate executives and managers, professionals, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs.

We are living in a time in which one third of employed Black women work in management or professional jobs and a record number are attending college. Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated White women. The number of businesses owned by Black women has nearly doubled in the past decade to more than 900,000, according to census figures. And, many of us are married with kids and we want for our kids what every American family aspires for their children. (I borrowed some stats from author and consultant Andrea Hoffman. The least I could do is encourage you to read her book called Black is the New Green.)

A report published in January by Hoffman and her team revealed that in 2004, 13.5 percent of Affluent African Americans (AAAs) used the Internet to shop. By 2008 that number grew to 95.5 percent. As Hoffman states, “the Internet leveled the race playing field.”

How should you market to us and our kids? Please, we aren’t unreasonable. We don’t expect to be in every campaign or always be the star. And in this multicultural world we live in, we even understand mistakes will be made. If they are, apologize for them but more importantly learn from them.  Know that including one Black model on your company’s website or a rap star in your campaign will not cause us to jump to your brand.

An example of a company doing it right? Honda. One of the car company’s most recent commercials features a daughter who has just run a marathon and her mom texts her on the dashboard of her new car. That looks a lot like my family and my life. But just to keep it real and complicated, our family also loves Honda’s older commercial called “The Cog.” It’s a massively complex, yet exquisite and real interaction between the disembodied components of the then new Accord. Meaning, we have a variety of interests, just like everybody else.

By 2042 Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders will collectively outnumber Whites. There will no longer be a majority race in America. Among children under 18 years old, these groups will outnumber Whites by 2023. Isn’t it time we recognize the totality of this beautiful tapestry that is the current and future America?

Need help designing a new strategy and campaign that includes all and excludes none, you are cordially invited to have a seat at our table.


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