Black creators and consumers are, in many ways, dominating the American market in what Nielsen (No. 16 on DiversityInc’s 2019 Top 50 Companies for Diversity) is referring to as the New Black Renaissance. For Black History Month, the data and metrics firm is highlighting the purchasing and consumption power of the African American population to show just how important it is for companies to target and Black audiences and spotlight their stories.
Nielsen’s metrics show that in the past decade, there has been an increase in representation of Black consumers across different platforms. Sixty-one percent say they are fascinated by new technologies. According to Nielsen, Black consumers make up $1.3 trillion in annual buying power. Black consumers discover products mainly on mobile devices, but also spend more time than other demographic groups on traditional platforms like TV and radio. They also are more likely to consume media and purchase products targeted to them.
In short, ads and content that center diverse stories have significant mainstream appeal because of the impact Black Americans and other growing minority groups have on the market.
Cheryl Grace, the U.S. SVP of strategic community alliances and consumer engagement at Nielsen focuses on metrics like these when traveling and talking to brands, marketers and clients about the impact multicultural consumers are having on the economy. She told DiversityInc the buying habits of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinx Americans are crucial for brands to recognize and cater to. While many brands look to expand outside of the U.S., American multicultural communities are often demographics brands can miss out on.
“Oftentimes, brands are looking for ways to grow market share and sometimes they look for growth opportunities outside of the United States with expanding markets or emerging markets,” Grace said. “And oftentimes they haven’t yet really capitalized fully on engaging and connecting with multicultural consumers here in the United States, so they’re literally leaving thousands and millions of dollars on the table without understanding how they can better connect with those consumers to use those insights to better connect and improve their market share.”
The multicultural population is growing faster than the non-Hispanic white population in the U.S., according to recent census data. Therefore, diverse marketing strategies are not just perks — they’re business imperatives.
“If you don’t have a multicultural strategy today with your brand in 2020, chances are, you’re not going to be around in 2030,” Grace said.
Nielsen’s New Black Renaissance data is showing shifts in the past decade in how African Americans consume media and products. For example, more media is centering specifically Black stories, rather than just having them be part of broader, diverse storylines. Blacks are telling more stories about themselves, and more Blacks are tuning in to watch them, Grace said. As a result, more producers, actors and other stakeholders in the entertainment industry are Black.
Grace said younger Black Americans — aged 18–34 — tend to tune into reality television like the show “Love & Hip Hop,” while older age groups are fans of shows like “Queen Sugar” and “Greenleaf,” drama series on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN that highlight different parts of the Black American experience. In both age groups, the diversity of Black stories these shows tell is important.
“They’re not treating Black as a monolithic group. They recognize that in the Black population, there are multiple types of stories that are being told,” Grace said.
Black consumers also gravitate toward products that highlight those who look like them in advertisements. Brands that align themselves with Black communities from a cultural standpoint and do not treat products targeted toward Black buyers as merchandise relegated to dark, understocked aisles labeled “ethnic” in the corners of stores are the most successful.
Nielsen’s data reveals that the brands that are making it a priority to target African American communities are rising to the top. For example, Grace said pharmaceutical companies have recently been making efforts to target and center diverse Black experiences and are seeing positive economic outcomes as a result.
In Nielsen’s list, Top 20 Advertisers on African American-Focused Media, there are four pharmaceutical companies: Pfizer, AbbVie (No. 26 on 2019 Top Companies for Diversity), Johnson & Johnson (DiversityInc Hall of Fame) and Bayer (a 2019 Noteworthy Company).
In the increasingly less common instance brands get it wrong, social media allows Black consumers to demand they do better.
“There’s going to be a swift and oftentimes severe reaction across social media and brands find themselves in the unfortunate position of recognizing that they made a very public mistake,” Grace said. “So, when we see ourselves represented improperly or in a stereotypical manner, we ask the brands to self-correct by kind of demanding it. That’s not something that used to happen before.”
For example, in 2017 when Pepsi aired a commercial depicting white model and reality star Kendall Jenner ending police brutality protests by handing out cans of soda, the internet clapped back, saying the ad trivialized Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality against Black Americans.
— maya (@mayaelysee) April 4, 2017
— Willy (@YeahItsWilly) April 5, 2017
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
Pepsi quickly retracted the ad and publicly apologized.
We at Pepsi believe in the legacy of Dr. King & meant absolutely no disrespect to him & others who fight for justice. pic.twitter.com/rM8W8i0Euu
— Pepsi (@pepsi) April 5, 2017
With social media, Black consumers have power to demand brands get it right.
Additionally, Grace said, it is important for brands to acknowledge the Black population as trendsetters and producers of culture, style, music and media that often becomes mainstream and adopted by many racial groups.
Consider the Harlem, or Black, Renaissance of the 1920s that showed Black intellectual, social, artistic and musical movements were a crucial part of American culture. Today, Nielsen is acknowledging a second wave of that Black Renaissance. Media, fashion and music by Black creators is often so popular that it becomes co-opted by mainstream brands across the world. Today, hip-hop has surpassed rock and pop as the number one genre of music in the U.S.
“I just think that understanding that Blacks continue to set trends here in the United States is important … Demographically, the trends start with us, and other demographics gravitate toward those trends,” Grace said.
Because of the virality of Black trends, appropriation by other groups can be an issue. But Grace said the key is acknowledging and celebrating the Black origins of these trends and ideas. She also pointed out how prolific and boundary-breaking the work of Black creators is. For example, when hip-hop star Lil Nas X remixed Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road,” he became an overnight country/hip-hop star who holds the record of most time spent on top of the Billboard Top 100. Singer, songwriter, rapper and flutist Lizzo also quickly gained worldwide fame by embracing her Blackness and plus-sized body with her genre-defying songs.
“When we get the chance to participate on a platform, we tend to win on that platform,” Grace said. “When we are allowed to bring our own uniqueness … we find that we are able to take any genre to the next level of that. And that’s what a renaissance is. It’s celebrating all of the uniqueness of our Black, beautiful selves … across art and entertainment and entrepreneurship.”