Respect the Michelle Obama Effect

The lines have been drawn in the sand and consumer brands and their PR teams better sit up and take notice. For years, affluent black moms have been crying foul regarding campaigns that show them as loud, brash, cold, and bossy.

The lines have been drawn in the sand and consumer brands and their PR teams better sit up and take notice. For years, affluent black moms have been crying foul regarding campaigns that show them as loud, brash, cold, and bossy. Until now, their grumbles have been relatively contained to beauty salons, churches, and at Sunday family dinners.

Black moms have remained vexed and embarrassed by the portrayal of them as one of two models: either Ebonics-speaking, booty-shaking sexpots; or ignorant, obese, and domineering. Black moms have been troubled by this depiction in mainstream media, but have remained relatively silent in communicating those frustrations publicly – until now.

The world recently held its collective breath as Americans elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the US. In President-elect Obama's acceptance speech, he gave a short but moving tribute to his black wife, partner, biggest supporter, and mother of his children, Michelle Obama.

Black women across the country wept at such a public expression of love and respect for a woman whose physical image reflects their own.

Some have never witnessed such an outpouring of affection over an entire lifetime. Finally the world is seeing an educated, nurturing, accomplished mother who looks, talks, and shares the same goals, values, and aspirations as them. For the first time on the world stage was a black woman that seemed so familiar; someone who could fit in easily at a book club or at the local Mocha Mom or Jack and Jill group.

The minute Michelle Obama came on the national scene the passive stance of black mom consumers changed. They are now chanting, “No more!” They are putting their purses where their mouths are. This is indeed the Michelle Obama Effect.

So what is the Michelle Obama Effect and what does it mean to PR practitioners? It means change. It means black moms taking control of their image and rejecting brands that reduce them to stereotypes and caricatures. And most importantly, it means that PR pros are going to have to develop PR and marketing programs that represent black moms in very real, relevant ways. Otherwise, those PR pros will watch these traditionally brand-loyal moms exercise the power of their purses by switching to competing brands.

By 2011, black families are expected to spend an estimated $1 trillion a year. Black moms make 87% of the purchasing decisions for products in their homes. Unless brands are willing to forsake their stake in this trillion-dollar market, PR practitioners should treat the Michelle Obama Effect as a genuine and extremely significant movement.

Terri-Nichelle Bradley is president of Playground Public Relations.

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