Last week, Racialicious posted a video from an event at South by Southwest Interactive 2010. How to be Black, featuring Baratunde Thurston, web and politics editor for The Onion, was not about tips for creating a like-black-if-not-authentically black identity, but about the importance of black internet users. Using a mix of humor (Black folks spend money, too.), and statistics (comparisons of mobile and internet broadband usage according to ethnic group), Thurston made the case for marketers to pay more attention to the ways black Americans use new media. A striking example was his example of his Dozens-like challenge to a friend on Twitter, which spawned #Howblackareyou, a popular, if not sometimes problematic, online conversation.
Thurston stated explicitly, even if you [advertising and marketing executives] dont like black people, if you like money, you should pay attention to black people. The point of the short video clip posted was obvious: companies are lacking in the attention paid to black users, despite the amount of spaces made ethnic by dint of the conversations among different users. Of course, companies need to connect to black users with smart, targeted marketing that addresses more than their color. As it is, I find myself responding to ads that dont highlight Americans of Color, not because I agree with the unspoken assumption that white people are universal/resonate easily with all people, but because it appeals to me on a socioeconomic and educational level.
I am reminded of the new(ish) smart phone ad for the Motorola Backflip, with two young black men who receive Gossip Girl-esque phone blasts from their friends instructing them to rock particular clothing styles from one day to the next. It is a smart, humorous, realistic ad that taps into the ways kids and college students have flossed their individuality in a collective manner. And for anyone familiar with this practice, it happened way before the disembodied voice of Gossip Girl hit the airwaves.
Americans of Color have been savvy users of home broadband and mobile internet for years, yet we still are forced to have panels, discussions, and roundtables on the lack of smart, targeted, meaningful marketing to minorities from mainstream companies. The question weve got to answer, then, is, is the lack of diversity on internet advertising related to a fear that white customers would confuse the product as a black product*** or is it just plain ignorance as to how create diversified marketing strategies?
***As a Person of Color working in corporate America, I, as well as many of my friends and family members, have been involved in uncomfortable situations about how to market products to our audiences. At one job, I was asked to limit the number of images of black people on the website I managed, lest prospective clients think the school we represented was a black school, and white people would be discouraged from applying.