Getting it right?

Marcom pro Moses Foster pretty gracefully leverages a truly embarassing episode of benevolent white ignorance to school AdAge readers on the concerns of the black middle class as a marketing segment.

After announcing the existence of the black middle class as the shattering of a stereotype, Foster relates an episode where a white colleague at a conference essentially links his or her perception of black male professionals’ penchant for white women to said professionals’ ability to “talk white.”

Foster follows this up with a curious plea:

I implore you as marketers to get it right, even if no one else does.

And goes on:

We have an obligation to know our target audiences, so that these misconceptions don’t bleed into our communications and feed the stereotype engine. The results can be disastrous — both to company’s trying to build brands within diverse audiences, as well as young, impressionable members of those diverse audiences whose perceptions are shaped in large part by the messaging that accosts them day to day.

Foster goes on to frame marketing’s mission in terms of an urge on the part of the black middle class to “increase access for Black people to the tools, resources, and people that are going to help the community. I’d like to hear in your advertisement about how your product helps me do that.”

This is pretty striking. Who else but a marketer would call on his industry to please get perceptions of race–and presumably relations between his own community and the commodified mainstream–“right, even if no-one else does”? Does that “no-one” include teachers, artists, community activists and others whose main interest lies in simply enriching the community?

Among other things, marketing creates desire for products and services, and anything remotely socially redeeming about the process is entirely secondary. Calling on marketers to “get it right” in terms of discarding stereotypes seems a little cart-before-the horse, if only because marketing perpetually lags far behind the cultural zeitgeist. Hell, marketers get their clues from the cultural choices of consumers, which reach far beyond their buying choices. Let’s not forget that 1) it took FOREVER for the ad world to recognize hip-hop–even as a trend, much less a cultural phenomenon and 2) it’s taking even longer for a print or broadcast ad to feature a gay or lesbian couple.

In short, marketing is generally a chicken-shit industry that doesn’t want to upend the apple cart.
Asking marketers to get race “right” is like asking me to fully understand the social impact of video gaming. NOT INTERESTED.

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Filed under Ad/Biz, Race, Society

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