Sunday, July 29, 2007
Here’s a blast from the past—the following article originally appeared in the June 27, 1969 issue of Time Magazine…
The Black Man In the Gray Flannel Suit
To a housewife, it’s a soul cookbook,
To a brother, it’s the natural look,
To a fighter, it’s the main event,
To a smoker, it’s a Kent.
Most white Americans will never hear that hip version of the popular Kent jingle, which is sung by a chorus of wailing voices against a background of driving rhythm and blues music. It is beamed only over black radio stations to black audiences. P. Lorillard, the manufacturer of Kent, is one of a growing number of U.S. companies that are making a special effort to woo Negro consumers, who spend an estimated $30 billion a year. In particular, tobacco companies, department stores and cosmetics makers have all found the soul sell an effective conduit to Negro buyers. Because of the development of a separate black identity and its unique idiom, companies are turning to black advertising agencies to set the pitch.
New agencies are starting up to serve the need, though most of them bill less than $1,000,000 annually. Last week, for example, Zebra Associates opened shop in Manhattan with an integrated staff. The agency is a partnership between Raymond League, a former account executive at J. Walter Thompson, and Joan Murray, a correspondent for Manhattan’s WCBS-TV. Their biggest account is the national campaign for All-Pro Chicken, the franchising chain headed by Brady Keys, retired professional football star. Zebra’s admen are not the least self-conscious about using heavy Negro dialect in their ads. Sample from an All-Pro radio commercial: “Good-lookin’, don’t shout. Go ‘head on. Tell me ‘bout it.” League sees his agency’s future in aiming ads at low-income groups of all colors, who together spend about $100 billion a year. Because black agencies concentrate on the ghetto, he figures, they have the best experience in selling to all the poor.
Up from Bleaching Cream. Some black ad agencies are already well established. A couple of the more successful are Chicago’s Vince Cullers Advertising Inc. and Manhattan’s Howard Sanders Advertising & Public Relations. For 15 years, Vince Cullers got by on the fringes of advertising as a freelance artist in Chicago; it was tough for a Negro to find a job in a white agency. In the past three years, the rise of black consciousness has turned his color into an asset. His agency now bills an estimated $1.5 million a year from accounts that include Kent, Newport and True cigarettes, Wayne-Gossard Corp. and the Joe Louis Milk Co. His ads are characterized by what he calls “a pride in being black.” One magazine layout for Afro-Sheen, a hair preparation that is supposed to enhance the natural, curly look, carries the headline: “A beautiful new product for a beautiful new people.” That is quite a change from the wording of older ads for cosmetics intended to bleach skin and straighten hair.
The same sense of black pride is found in the slogans of Howard Sanders, a former radio executive who opened his own agency on Madison Avenue in 1966 and now bills $1.5 million. His frank approach is illustrated by a campaign to present R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to the black community. One picture shows a Negro in a white shirt and necktie adjusting a complex piece of laboratory equipment. The caption: “What’s Franklin Weaver doing in our chemical plant if he’s not there to sweep?” It would be difficult for a white agency to be so candid.
The largest users of Negro advertising are about 300 radio stations that spin soul music for predominantly black audiences. This market has created a need for specialists. Detroit’s Carl Porter, a 28-year-old Wayne State graduate, has built up his Theme Productions by producing and selling radio commercials as well as distinctive, hard-rhythm station breaks. “We squeeze 50 tons of soul into six seconds,” he says. Porter creates radio spots for Mustang Malt Liquor, Lanolin Plus Liquid, Mystery of Black Cosmetics and other products, and his billings are running at a rate of $450,000 this year. He argues that only a black firm can “get the ear” of modern blacks, but concedes that not even he can communicate with all of them.
“I doubt that we could do a commercial that would relate to a person over 40,” he says. “Blacks over 40 still cut their hair short. I can’t tune in on their thinking.”