Ben Carson Shows How Not to Market to African Americans...or Any Minority Group

OK so it took me a few days to really understand Dr. Ben Carson. Not anything having to do with his implosion over his West Point conundrum. Or his politics. I’m actually going to put that aside at least for now.

But when I read several articles about him and his campaign team creating a hip hop song to reach out to young African Americans for their support, me as an African American in the business of marketing for over 40 years hit the floor in disgust.

Along with having a huge laugh at the worst mistake and I do mean the worst mistake in marketing to minorities.

What was he thinking?  What were they, the people on his campaign team thinking?

Let me be clear. The majority of clients that I work with are in mainstream marketing. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and energy offering my brand to anybody and everybody that wants to pay me. I’ve worked mainstream marketing for all of my life to not get pigeonholed in to just being the marketing guy for black folks.

But I do know what turns minorities on or off especially when it comes to thinking that for one minute creating a rap song and buying commercial time on urban formatted radio stations is going to get that audience to vote for any candidate.

I am a minority, just look at the picture.

It doesn’t work that way my friends in marketing and advertising. And to you Dr. Ben Carson it quite frankly is an insult.

I read an article in the National Review the other day. Yeah, yeah, yeah I’m a subscriber to the National Review. Um it was free. The author was a black guy named Theodore R. Johnson and the headline very direct.

“Yes, Republicans Can Win Black Voters.”

Huh?  So I had to read this diatribe…it was simply fantastic.

It is an incredible overview on how the GOP can market to the African American voter and how they are really screwing up that process. The article points out several, OK let me say too many reasons why today’s African American populous does not respond to stupid, ignorant, stereotypical marketing tactics.  Because quite frankly today’s minorities are not listening to rap music but  instead sending their kids to college.

Let me be blunt Dr. Carson and everyone else that thinks such strategies work… they don’t.

Mr. Johnson points out in his article several elements that will surprise most.
“Blacks over the age of 25 are the driving force. They are the only demographic that has grown in each presidential election in the past 20 years. Further, more than half of blacks over 25 have some level of college education, and almost a third are in managerial or professional jobs.”

So let’s take the education portion of his quote. “More than half” of African Americans over 25 have college education on their resumes. Meaning close to a third in white collar gigs.  The question becomes “Does rap music promoting a Presidential candidate sway their opinion or would a college educated African American turn on their computer to research and determine in the real world which candidate works for them?”

Let me be even blunter.

To think that any black person in the demographic he just described or any age group would vote for candidate because of a commercial featuring a rap song is simply insulting.  People, especially the African American over 25 years of age aren’t that stupid.

Clearly Dr. Ben Carson and his team of idiots disagree with my assessment.  There’s more from Mr. Johnson. This one will hurt some and surprise others.

“Middle-class and affluent blacks have moved away from blacks living in poverty. With respect to social status — wages, work, housing, and schools — the black experience in America is more heterogeneous than it was several decades ago.”

To those in the mainstream marketing community please read this quote twice. Read it twice because while you watch demonstrations by the so called oppressed African Americans in Ferguson and Baltimore this group is a far cry from today’s middle class, affluent and educated African Americans.  This is the new look African American in the year 2015 and beyond.  THIS is the target marketers should be reaching toward with their messaging.

Rap songs are certainly not going to be what motivates them to buy your product or vote for a candidate.  Bank on it.

To be blunt African American babies today are sitting in front of the TV screen viewing “Your Baby Can Read” and growing to be citizens to support society.  Not looting a CVS store or a liquor store for pretty much no reason whatsoever. Those for educated African Americans are yesterday’s news yet this is all we TV consumers see on television. African Americans complaining. Oh “woe is me and me is woe,” right?

Um no.

This is the new world order in the African American community. Don’t let these violent images taint how you communicate to this consumer. But of most importance do not think African Americans of middle class and upper class levels are turning around to pull up those of us in the poverty level.  Or sitting back waiting for those at said poverty level to catch the wave.

We are not.

Are you coming? Then if you are pull up your britches and come. If not well “see you later.”

Mr. Johnson’s article is eye opening. And people like Dr. Ben Carson who think the marketing strategy of creating a rap song to reach out to such voters is simply wrong.

Can Dr. Ben Carson be that stupid?

Let me be clear on this fact. I’m way out of demo for the clear cut rap music fan. Way out! But I like Drake!  Future is awesome!  Fetty Wap, well I crank when I’m in my car stuck in traffic listening to my favorites Power 106 or Real 92.3 here in Los Angeles. But they will not influence my decision on who I vote for in this general election cycle.

No way, no how. Morning jocks J Cruz and Big Boy are my boys!!!  Yet run all of the rap music commercials from Dr. Ben Carson and I’m back to KNX 1070 Newsradio for my traffic reports and business reports to see how much more money I’m losing in penny stocks.  My “boys” are for fun, not a marketing strategy for electing the President of the United States.

I really like this Theodore R. Johnson article from the National Review. So will you. But of most importance from a marketing perspective don’t insult your target audience. Don’t insult them as Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign is doing. Quite frankly I respect him in the medical community but I think his marketing strategy is idiotic for how he thinks he should reach out to the African American community.  And the people surrounding him and supporting this marketing strategy are idiots as well.

Marketing to minorities needs to be real. Not fake. Not stereotypical. Today’s African Americans are too damn smart to be pushed in one direction or another especially those with some level of college education. That crap is old school and marketing of the past.  I remember when I sold radio it was easy for mainstream salespeople at other radio stations to highlight the qualitative differences between African Americans listeners and mainstream users of radio.  It was always upscale versus downscale as a reason to favor urban radio over mainstream radio.  I remember one sales manager telling me that our radio station was better because the urban formatted radio station’s users were too downscale to own a computer.  Well today there’s a different thought process and the concept that we want to target “more prospects than suspects” is a thing of the past.

I spent a little time at Digital Hollywood in Marina Del Rey a couple of weeks ago. One panel which included all white panelists by the way were discussing the importance of marketing to minority communities in a real way, a way that put speaks to these groups that does not communicate to them on a 6th grade level but a much higher level of education. These were some really smart people on the panel, those who today understand the value of that consumer.

Would they recommend a rap song element to reach out younger African Americans?  I think not. Yeah, these were some really smart people.

Remember that marketers.  Because if Dr. Ben Carson and the folks around him managing his campaign can’t figure it out then you will have a clear issue marketing your content to any person in minority communities. In other words your efforts will fail miserably and you will find yourself in serious mess if you think like these are the 1980’s rather than the year 2015.

Here’s the link to the article and it is a great read.  Yeah the Republican party can win over black voters.  But they will have to be smart, very smart to do it and it seems they have a lot of lessons to learn.



The National Review