Sen. Obama's candidacy is, perhaps, the largest proof that remaining doubts about a black man's ability to lead at the highest level of an institution are fading. For African Americans, Sen. Obama represents black manhood at its finest. In any culture, poise is one of the characteristics typically found among leaders. In the case of Sen. Obama, the unique poise he demonstrates under intense media scrutiny has been evident for years among black men. This leads us to the next case in point.
Ebony Magazine, for years the most significant national media outlet for African Americans, recently unveiled its "25 Coolest Brothers of All Time." The list includes luminaries such as Obama, Sidney Poitier, Jimi Hendrix, Ed Bradley, Jay-Z, and Muhammad Ali.
William Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history at Spelman College in Atlanta, writes in his introduction to Ebony's list: "The truth is that minus the tradition of Black cool, this nation would be a far less funky place, and that funklessness would cost America money. (Black cool) is absolutely the reason why the NBA can sell Iverson jerseys in Eastern Europe, the reason why jazz and hip-hop are prime American exports, and the reason why brand-conscious marketers fling products at Black icons of cool, hoping some of it will translate into market share. In short, cool sells."
Yes, cool is effectively monetized even when its personification—the black man—is ineffectively leveraged in the marketplace. The approach to black men in marketing campaigns brings us to our final case in point for reflection. Radio One and research firm Yankelovich recently presented what they call "one of the largest-ever studies of black America." Their “Black America Study” is a must read for communicators looking to better understand the diversity of the black experience in today's America.
Esteemed researcher, Pepper Miller, was part of the team that worked with Radio One and Yankelovich. She recently wrote about the study in Advertising Age. She carries Cobb's point even further, offering perspective on one of the market segments identified in the study:
"Black Onliners are exciting and baffling. The majority are males who are serious Web users, are more engaged in Black media, are very brand-conscious, and place a greater importance on being with other Blacks. I scratch my head in puzzlement because Black men – who don't look to other cultures for cues about swagger, language, fashion, music and what is cool – are the fuel behind the trends that the world follows. Yet, beyond automobiles and alcoholic beverages, this segment is rarely on marketers' radars."
So what is a marketer to do about black men, in particular, as we seek to capitalize on a marketplace increasingly shaped by people of color? We should encourage clients to understand that black men's “coolness” is not just found on BET or on basketball courts. It is a power that can be tapped and leveraged in all fields of endeavor, at all income levels and in every region of the world.
Indeed, the African-American market is one that can still be tapped more easily than many of today's most highly-sought international markets, as Target Market News' “The Buying Power of Black America” report notes. Just looking at men, that report adds that African-American men's total earned income of more than $400 billion is larger than the gross national income of Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Indonesia, Denmark and many other nations. The smart client understands that black manhood, if harnessed appropriately and targeted intelligently, is a power source that can take a brand communication initiative in profitable directions.
David Rudd is a VP at The Axis Agency