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Study: Cross-cultural marketing fails to engage African-American consumers

(November 8, 2011) Cross-culturalism, the current trend in multicultural marketing that stresses the blurring color lines in America, fails to engage African Americans, according to an unprecedented and comprehensive exploration of African American consumers by Burrell Communications (

The study, conducted in conjunction with Burrell's 40th anniversary and named Burrell: Project 40, delves deep into the lives of African Americans, identifying themes in lifestyles, interests, cultural beliefs and perceptions of African Americans in the media. With more than 500 in-person interviews across 11 major markets, Burrell: Project 40 gives a true portrait of the average African American consumer. Over 80 percent of Burrell's respondents had never participated in a market research project before, so the study gives voice to the unheard and untapped majority of black consumers in a way that's never been done before.

"Most of the research conducted in the African American community is done with upper and middle-class consumers -- who don't necessarily reflect the attitudes, behaviors and opinions of the majority," said Fay Ferguson, co-CEO of Burrell Communications. "Burrell: Project 40 gives a more accurate picture of a population that is often taken for granted."

"Burrell: Project 40 continues Burrell's 40-year legacy of commitment to deeply understanding African American consumers," added McGhee Williams Osse, co-CEO of Burrell Communications. "The clients we work with have made it a priority to speak to African American audiences in a way that's relevant and authentic, and we hope our research will show the greater marketing community why that's important."

Over the course of a year, executives from Burrell Communications and its research partners -- The Recruit, The Futures Company and Breakthrough Marketing Technology -- conducted interviews with 500 African American men and women, identifying key trends prevalent in the community:

1. African Americans interact with many cultures, but remain culturally distinct at the deepest, most important levels.

As many as 63 percent of African Americans are open to other cultures, and enjoy experiencing foreign customs as they relate to food, fashion and music, but those experiences do not change who they are when they are at home. 87 percent of those surveyed are actively attached to African American culture, and make an effort to balance their cultural interests with their own cultural identity.

2. The "game face" is still a part of the African American experience.

African Americans still openly and freely share accounts of occasions in which they needed to act differently among people of other cultures due to fear of judgment, the lessons of history and their desire to succeed, with 36 percent admitting that they experience this cultural suppression often. This includes situations at work and school, as well as in social settings.

3. African Americans continue to seek more positive representations of their culture in the media.

Every respondent could more easily identify negative, inauthentic portrayals of African Americans in the media than positive ones, with 88 percent agreeing that discrimination is still part of their day-to-day lives. This spans across movies and TV, as well as within the advertising and marketing industries. In particular, many expressed the belief that African American characters on TV tend to be one-dimensional, and 75 percent agreed that there should be more TV programs directed toward African Americans.

Burrell Communications is a full-service marketing communications company with offices in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. In business for more than 40 years, Burrell is a leader in understanding and motivating consumer behavior in the African-American and Yurban(R) markets. The agency's client roster includes: Procter & Gamble, Toyota, McDonald's, General Mills, Comcast, Walt Disney World Resorts, SuperValu, Lilly, Illinois Lottery and American Airlines. For more information, visit

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