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Originally published September 25, 2013 at 6:07 PM | Page modified September 26, 2013 at 6:49 AM

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Advertisers miss chance to reach black consumers

With 43 million blacks in the U.S. representing about 14 percent of the population — more than half under the age of 35 — advertisers are not effectively reaching a growing population projected to account for $1.3 trillion in consumer spending by 2017, according to a Nielsen report.

Chicago Tribune

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The buying power of African Americans continues to grow, but advertisers are missing the mark by passing over black-oriented media.

That is the conclusion of a Nielsen report, which shows that of the $75 billion spent last year in the U.S. on television, magazines, Internet and radio advertising, less than 3 percent went to media focused on black audiences.

With 43 million blacks in the U.S. representing about 14 percent of the population — more than half under the age of 35 — advertisers are not effectively reaching a growing population projected to account for $1.3 trillion in consumer spending by 2017, according to Nielsen.

In short, the message and the medium matter when selling everything from feminine hygiene products to Big Macs, both of which are purchased more heavily by African Americans than the general population, according to the report.

“African-American consumption patterns are, in some areas, higher than the total market,” said Nielsen Senior Vice President Cheryl Pearson-McNeil. “Advertisers are not advertising in sync with the consumption patterns and behaviors and habits of the African-American consumer.”

The study, released last week, finds that blacks watch 37 percent more television than any other group, spending more than seven hours per day viewing TV. Cable channel BET (formerly Black Entertainment Television) is the favorite network among African Americans, with four of the top 10-rated total day programs through June. Several network shows, including ABC’s “Scandal,” which stars black actress Kerry Washington, also cracked the top 10.

But Pearson-McNeil said numbers don’t tell the whole story when it comes to reaching the black consumer.

“Because there are no language barriers, the assumption is, ‘I can reach African Americans with the same ads that I can reach the general market,’ ” Pearson-McNeil said. “In reality, there are a lot if cultural nuances that resonate more with blacks ... that could actually drive up market share if you incorporated them into your marketing strategy.”

That’s the pitch that has been made by Chicago-based Johnson Publishing for more than 70 years. Johnson publishes two of the oldest and largest magazines geared toward African Americans — Ebony and Jet. Both have undergone recent redesigns in an effort to attract more readers and revenue, but a striking advertising disparity between those publications and general-interest magazines still exists.

Ebony, a lifestyle magazine with deep roots in African-American culture, is published monthly and has a total average circulation of 1.29 million as of June, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Last year, Ebony had advertising revenues of about $48 million, up 29 percent from 2011, according to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB).

Vanity Fair, a comparable general-market magazine published monthly by Condé Nast, has a total average circulation of 1.21 million, and last year brought in more than $268 million in advertising revenue, according to PIB.

Johnson Publishing CEO Desiree Rogers said the disparity represents an undervaluation of the black audience, and thinks the tide may be turning among some marketers looking to tap into a resilient and increasingly powerful consumer segment.

“Cutting-edge consumer-products CEOs are beginning to take a hard look at where their growth is going to come from in the country and the world,” Rogers said. “They may have tapped out with the general market, and these other segmented markets are becoming opportunities for them, if they do it right.”

Rogers said younger blacks are undergoing a “reverse assimilation” of sorts, taking renewed pride in their cultural heritage and seeking entertainment, information and news that speaks directly to their unique experiences. She said companies employing black-oriented media and messages will be “much further ahead” in terms of influencing buying decisions among those consumers.

Ahmad Islam, co-founder and managing partner of CommonGround, a Chicago-based multicultural agency whose clients include MillerCoors, Coca-Cola and the Illinois Lottery, said black-oriented media is an essential advertising vehicle for reaching African Americans.

“There is a unique relationship that African Americans have with black media,” Islam said. “There is an affinity for black media that in a lot of ways creates a halo effect for brands that do invest in black media.”

Finding the proper marketing mix between general and multicultural advertising is both art and science, according to Islam, who said the return on investment in black media is sometimes difficult to quantify, but no less crucial.

“A lot of the art comes in through the benefit that a Johnson Publishing or BET brings that is a bit more difficult to measure,” Islam said. “A lot of it is emotional, but it’s very, very tangible and very, very real.”

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