Black people are not dark-skinned white people.
The marketing strategy to pinpoint the cultural cues of the target audience was as simple as it was genius--and it made Tom Burrell one of the most successful 'ad men' in modern history.
Burrell's new thought included the early courtship of the image-conscious young urban consumer; he invented the advertising term "yurban."
Through the years, Burrell Communications Group would dominate that niche market, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for groundbreaking advertising campaigns for Verizon, Tide and Sprite, among others.
In 2004, Burrell announced his retirement from Burrell Communications Group. Today he's rewired -- having released a riveting new book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority (SmileyBooks, February, 2010), which no advertising exec would want the urban consumer to read.
In Brainwashed, Burrell illustrates with disturbing detail how the sausage is made, taking the reader from the fattening farm, to the slaughterhouse, to the cooked sausage patties at the breakfast table.
By the way, the sausage is black folks.
Two Black Men: the Stud & the Deadbeat Dad
The stud and the absentee father are among the rampant stereotypes that envelop black men, the ad man turned author states.
"Only a few generations ago, it was illegal for a black man to be a father. We have to remember that it's not a father problem that we have, it's a relationship problem that we have," Burrell says.
The father is not in the home because black men and women have these unresolved issues that come out of slavery. We basically have been conditioned to be against each other. We were separated; we were not able to form relationships because we had no control over our lives. We have failed to heal those wounds that exist between us and those have to be addressed and understood.
The Obama Effect
Thank goodness for the First Family, Burrell says.
Images are powerful and one of the most powerful images right now in America for black people is Barack and Michelle Obama. She is a tremendously powerful image, intellectually, physically, and for her values. Think about the image of an African American woman and man getting off of Air Force One; being in the White House as the leader and the First Lady of the free world.
It's not that they're black, it's that they're black and they have a cool factor. You watch Obama walk and you see that cool pose in his gait. If you listen to him, you'll hear the occasional, 'Hey man...' And we've seen some evidence of that, already in young black men; you can be cool and smart and, as a matter of fact, smart is cool.
Not so fast.
The power of Barack Obama, the black father and husband, is a feel-good victory. But, Burrell cautions, "Even that image is challenged by all of the negative cues that we get through the media."
It's befitting for Burrell to roll out the industry secrets to educate that niche -- after years of giving the people what they wanted, he aims to give them what they need. But can the people handle the truth?
African Americans have always had this underlining desire to overcome. This pops up through our history from time to time, like the 'Black Is Beautiful' era. But we've never been able to sustain it because of the overwhelming bombardment of images that tell us we are inferior.
With open source media outlets and a historic presidency, perhaps the revolution will stick this time around.