How to Elevate Black Culture Rather Than Just Benefitting From It

Too often brands tap in and don’t make an authentic connection

An illustration of a man on a ladder putting up a wallpaper of a map image of Africa
Invest in the culture and trust that the payoff will come. Illustration: Aanya Gupta; Sources: Getty Images
Headshot of Nidia Serrano

Black consumers are trendsetters and tastemakers for consumers of all races. Their choices create a halo effect on the masses, thanks to their relentless pursuit of innovation and cultural expression. Music is a reliable indicator of this effect, as black artists like Drake, and most recently Lil Nas X, dominated almost every chart in the last decade. They achieved this by winning over black music fans, generating enough buzz to win with the masses.

Despite black culture’s influence on the mainstream, advertisers continue to shy away from investing in it. Black consumers are responsible for $1.3 trillion in purchases annually, or 8.8% of the total buying power in the U.S., but only represent 1.4% of media spend. Some marketers believe their general market efforts are enough to reach them, while others are afraid of making a mistake. What these marketers don’t realize is that by not speaking to this audience, they are missing out on unprecedented growth.

Unlike Latinos, there is no language barrier separating black consumers from the general market. But there is a culture that sets them apart, one they want to see reflected in the ads they see and hear. Their music and social media conversations move at a rapid pace, generating an endless stream of content for marketers to access. If you study black culture and history, you’ll uncover a world of insights that could change your entire marketing communication. P&G’s “The Talk” and “The Look,” and more recently, “The Most Searched: A Celebration of Black History Makers” by Google, reflect what you could achieve by understanding black culture at its core.

There is nothing more inauthentic than hearing from a brand during Black History Month and never hearing from them again.

Tapping into such an influential culture could be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Many studies have shown the positive impact of campaigns targeted to this group, and you can achieve this as well by being thoughtful without alienating them.

Elevate the culture 

Black culture is rich, distinctive and always evolving. Know what matters to this audience, and don’t shy away from cultural moments and markers without understanding their cultural significance. Many brands take an appreciation for black cultural trends only once the mainstream starts embracing them. Elevate the culture as it is emerging and find a way to make it relevant to your brand.

Empower black consumers with positive messages

Black consumers are very supportive of positive representations of their culture and see those messages as a source of empowerment. Care about the issues that affect them and celebrate their cultural moments and triumphs. Celebration and support are the pillars of a positive brand to consumer relationship.

Dig deeper for insights

Don’t just rely on surface-level insights. You can dig deeper by tapping into black culture experts and offering them a seat at the table. Study trends in music, social media and entertainment to discover subcultures and stay ahead of the curve. Your search could uncover insights that may impact your entire marketing strategy.

Put your money where your mouth is

Ensure your message reaches black consumers by supporting their community, investing in culturally relevant spaces and targeting them in total market channels. Some brands create amazing marketing assets but only run them in general market media or highlight them in industry trades. By investing in black media, you are zeroing in on an influential consumer that wants to see your ad. You are also supporting spaces that are an essential part of the culture.

Make an authentic connection

Connect with them consistently. There is nothing more inauthentic than hearing from a brand during Black History Month and never hearing from them again. Speak to them, but also take the time to listen. These consumers are vocal and could help you decide your next step in your marketing campaign.

Some brand marketers would take all these steps but fall off if they do not automatically get returns from their first commercial. As marketers, we must remember that positive brand association, trust and loyalty take time to build. As an influential audience, black consumers may need some convincing. Invest in the culture and trust that the payoff will come.


Nidia Serrano leads audience marketing at Pandora in New York.
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