Black is the New Green, Marketing to Affluent African Americans

Excerpted from Black is the New Green by Leonard E. Burnett, Jr. and Andrea Hoffman. Copyright © 2010 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.

“Go where the money is.” This pithy way to navigate should be obvious to any marketer worth his or her salt. It’s known as “Sutton’s Law,” and it comes to us out of the Great Depression, by way of a colorful character known as “Slick Willie” Sutton. Sutton was a prolific bank robber known for his immaculate dress, quick wit, and gentle manners. Although the sheer number of heists he pulled off made bank thieves like John Dillinger look like amateurs, Sutton never engaged in violent behavior. Sutton is best remembered today for his reputed answer to a question from the reporter Mitch Ohnstad: Why do you rob banks? “Because that’s where the money is.”

Though Sutton never actually uttered these words—he admits as much in his autobiography, speculating that Ohnstad “invented” this answer, probably to fill out his story—the exchange has become urban legend. The sentiment has since been fashioned into an instrument for teaching medical students, forms a principle of activity based costing (ABC) of management accounting where it is known as “Sutton’s rule,” and has become shorthand for simple common sense to anyone who has a product or service to sell.

At one time “go where the money is” may have sounded like a fairly straightforward directive. There was a time about forty or fifty years ago when it might have been true—a picture of a time we are admittedly painting with broad strokes. Though the population of the United States has always been richly diverse, founded as it was, by immigrants and proudly proclaiming itself a “melting pot,” day-to-day life was lived out within a rather strict class system. There was an obvious shorthand for figuring out who fit where in the scheme of things: fur coats, big cars, and certain Anglo-Saxon surnames belonged to rich people; the suburbs were reserved for the middle class who, like the rich folks, were assumed to be White; working-class and lower-class neighborhoods were for the most part peopled by the latest waves of immigrants who—almost invariably—lived within their own ethnic clusters, laboring in the least desirable jobs, struggling to find their footing on the class ladder so that their children could make it up a rung or two. Aspirationally, if not culturally, the country appeared to be homogenized. The manner in which a centralized media portrayed and reported about American lives certainly lent itself to that conclusion, and targeting those who would use certain products and services within that media was a no-brainer.

But the days when plying the craft of marketing was limited to presenting a client with a clever layout for a general print campaign designed to appeal to the “typical” consumer are long gone, as is the “typical” consumer himself. The eulogy for that old advertising era would be the recent hit television show Mad Men. This eloquent look back is proof of how far we’ve moved on from the era—the early 1960s—the program showcases. Part of the show’s appeal rests on nostalgia, and not necessarily the kind that women, African Americans, or most of their minority groups revisit with pleasure.

So, if a return to that more culturally constrained and technologically innocent time isn’t possible, let alone desirable, how do marketers find their footing today when the task of defining and reaching customers and potential customers is more complicated and downright difficult?

The first step is to recognize that business is entering a brand new era. It is fresh and, for the most part, unexplored territory. And, as it has been during every other time in history when change was in the air, those who stick to old ways of thinking and doing things—traditional practices and/or technologies that are fast becoming obsolete—miss the boat while those who adapt sail smoothly into the future. And the only way to keep your company and your brand from becoming irrelevant is to reach out and really figure out which way the wind is blowing. We’ve identified the four converging gale-force winds that are knocking around business—and specifically the luxury brand market. The purpose of this book is to show media, marketing executives, brand managers, business development experts, television programmers, Internet content developers, and others how to harness all that natural power and use it to their advantage.

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2 comments

CurryJ's picture
CurryJ
955 pencils

Hey thanks for that, Ivan.

A truly informative and in some ways enlightening read. Would love to get my hands on the book.

HannahGillaspie's picture
HannahGillaspie
8 pencils

I would be very interested to read this book in its entirety. Not only does it acknowledge the importance of expanding the so-called "typical" consumer, but it also makes you think about how you could expand that term to other minorities as well. But how can you define the ideal target when including such minority groups can be so crucial, not to mention challenging? It's true that sticking to old strategies and techniques can be damaging, but the inevitable obstacles that marketing practitioners face when deciding who to target and what strategy to use must be tackled in a time when it can be so easy to get lost in the crowd.

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