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data on African American consumers
Black Buying Power:
$679 Billion (2004)
Black U.S. Population:
Top Five Black Cities
- New York
Top Five Black Metros:
- New York-New Jersey
- Los Angeles
Top Five Expenditures:
- Housing 110.2 bil.
- Food 53.8 bil.
- Cars/Trucks 28.7 bil.
- Clothing 22.0 bil.
- Health Care 17.9 bil.
Click here for more stats from "The Buying Power of
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images of big black women becoming popular in advertising again
By Jeremy Peters
New York Times
2006) At 250-pounds plus - most of that pure attitude - she is hard to
Her onscreen presence takes on many variations, but she is easily
recognizable by a few defining traits. Other than her size, she is almost
always black. She typically is in an exchange that is either
confrontational or embarrassing. And her best line is often little more
than a sassy "Mmmm hmmm."
This caricature, playing on stereotypes of heavy black women as boisterous
and sometimes aggressive, has been showing up for some time in movies like
"Big Momma's House" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which often have
directors and writers who are black themselves.
With black creators giving more acceptability to the character, she is
starting to appear more often in television commercials as well. Most
recently some variation of the woman has appeared in commercials for Dairy
Queen, Universal Studios theme parks and Captain Morgan Rum.
But despite the popularity of such characters among blacks themselves, the
image of big black women as the butt of jokes is troublesome to some
marketers and media scholars who say it is exploiting a cultural gulf that
still exists between whites and blacks.
"Not only are we being given images of who we are supposed to be, but
others are also formulating their images of us based on that," said
Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, an author and marketing expert who studies how
blacks are portrayed in advertising. "People have already determined who
we are and how we're going to react in certain situations."
For decades, stereotypical portrayals of blacks in commercials have drawn
criticism from civil rights groups. Some of the earliest and most iconic
examples of blacks in advertising - Rastus, the Cream of Wheat chef; Aunt
Jemima; Uncle Ben - showed blacks in passive, subservient roles that
recall the days of slavery.
Those images have been toned down over the years (Aunt Jemima, for
example, had her red bandanna replaced with pearl earrings and a lace
collar in 1989) and are no longer as overtly stereotypical as they once
were. And there are many examples these days of black people presented in
middle-class environments and engaged in a variety of mainstream
activities. To some, the freer use of overweight black women in comic
situations suggests a welcome change that reflects a broader acceptability
of black people in the media. But others find the recurring use of the
image a return to a disturbing past.
The heavy black female makes one of her latest appearances in a commercial
for the Dairy Queen Blizzard, a kind of milkshake. In the spot, a man
boarding an airplane puts down his drink to load his bag into an overhead
compartment. As he reaches up, another passenger on the plane starts
drinking the shake. Seeing this, the first man lets go of his bag to
reclaim his Blizzard, inadvertently dropping his luggage on another
That unlucky passenger happens to be an overweight black woman who lets
out an irritated gasp that reminds all the passengers around her who not
to mess with.
Rick Cusato, executive vice president for Grey Worldwide, the firm that
wrote the campaign for Dairy Queen, said the script was not written with a
black actress in mind.
"We basically cast the funniest person," he said. "We didn't specifically
cast for a black woman. We said, 'Wow, she's really funny.' And she
happened to be black."
Another new Dairy Queen commercial features a similar character - played
by the same actress - working as an airport security screener. When a man
tries to walk through a metal detector eating a Dairy Queen burger, her
eyes dart disapprovingly downward at him. Then she grunts, "Uh, uh. Get
on!" as she orders him to step back.
"It's not an accident that she's African American and heavy," said Howard
Buford, founder and chief executive Prime Access, an advertising agency
that creates commercials marketed toward minority audiences. "There's
certainly a long heritage of large African American women who are kind of
sassy and feisty and humorously angry. There's a sense that this whole
value system is O.K. again."
To be sure, sassy overweight black female characters appear to represent
only a small fraction of the African- American actresses who appear in
commercials. Marketers have made strides in recent years toward making
U.S. advertisements with diverse characters.
Black people regularly appear in commercials selling everything from
toothpaste to credit cards to erectile dysfunction medication. Indeed,
according to several academic studies, over the last 15 years the number
of blacks appearing in commercials has been roughly proportional to their
share of American population of about 14 percent.
Large black female actresses have had recurring roles in commercials over
the years, and often times they are cast in roles where their
aggressiveness is a defining trait. The heavy black spokeswoman for Pine
Sol cleaning liquid was one of the first to embrace the role. Her
aggression was aimed at household dirt, however, not people.
In a new commercial for Captain Morgan Rum, a large black woman berates a
pair of men who are lounging around instead of working.
In one recent commercial for a Twix candy bar, a full-figured black woman
asks her boyfriend if her pants make her rear end look big. As the camera
focuses on her plump backside (exaggerated by the camera for effect), the
man stuffs a Twix bar into his mouth and mumbles an indecipherable answer.
Pleased with his response, the woman walks away. She is not shown being
aggressive or loud, but the commercial leaves the impression that if the
man had given the wrong answer, she might erupt.
A series of Universal Studios commercials star a heavy black woman who is
accompanying her children on a Jurassic Park ride. Frightened by the ride,
she roars and buries the heads of her two young children in her bosom.
"There's an image out there of black women being boisterous, overbearing,
controlling and extremely aggressive in their behavior," said Carol
Williams, who runs an advertising firm in Oakland, California, that
specializes in marketing to blacks. "I really don't know why that
stereotype is laughed at."
And part of the issue is who is writing the spots. "There are images of
African-Americans created for white people by white people and there are
images of African-Americans created for African-Americans," Buford said.
"And there's a big difference."
Jannette Dates, dean of the communications school at Howard University,
said that while whites and blacks could watch the same portrayal of a
large black woman on television and laugh, they are laughing for different
Some whites, Dates said, may laugh thinking, "Wow, she's so ridiculous. My
people aren't like that." She added: "They wouldn't consciously feel that
way. But there is something going on subconsciously because that's what
advertising is all about. They're trying to tap into some feeling, some
emotion, some psychological hang up."
Blacks, meanwhile, might laugh because they can identify with the
character, Dates said. "It's for both the people who want to snicker and
say, 'See, that's how they are.' And for people to say, 'There's one of
Liz Gumbinner, a creative director at David and Goliath, the advertising
agency that developed the Universal campaign, said the broad appeal of the
commercials was proof that they are not insensitively playing on racial
Noting that a black woman in a recent David and Goliath focus group spoke
up about how much she liked the Universal ads, Gumbinner said, "I wonder
if sometimes when you have somebody that is less conventional, they become
the most memorable. We use a lot of bald men, and it's not like we have it
out for bald men."
Both Gumbinner and Cusato of Grey Advertising, however, conceded that no
black writers were involved in either of the campaigns.
Advertising often takes its cues from movies and television shows.
But as is typically the case with racial stereotypes, who is laughing and
why is complex and potentially inflammatory. Black actors and comedians
have profited handsomely from creating bumptious female characters,
raising the issue of whether they, too, are perpetuating the stereotypes
that many blacks find offensive.
Tyler Perry, the filmmaker and actor, created an entire series of plays
and movies in which the main character Mable "Madea" Simmons is a
no-nonsense overweight matriarch. Monique Imes, a full-figured comedian,
has built an entire routine on being outlandish, brash and, at times,
Buford, of Prime Access, said part of what makes the comedy of Perry and
Simmons acceptable is that it is written from a personal experience common
to many blacks.
"Authenticity makes a lot of difference," he said. "It's authenticity born
of having lived that life versus having been cast in that role."
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'Buying Power' report shows black consumers spending more on home life
As the American economy continues to move sluggishly,
African-American households are curtailing their spending in many
categories, including food, clothing and basic household items, while
investing more in home repair, home entertainment and consumer
electronics. Although they are trimming back, black consumers are still
spending more than their white counterparts on most of these products.
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