Kobe and Gianna’s shared love of basketball is something that resonates greatly with me. As a young girl, I played basketball. Lots and lots of basketball. And for many years, my dad was the coach. We spent weekend after weekend traveling to basketball games, tournaments, and camps.
Basketball aside, it’s not an uncommon story. It is one not told often enough through marketing and communications campaigns.
Strive for authenticity
A recent study found that only 26% of Blacks and 10% of Hispanics/Latinos believe their race/ethnicity is represented in the ads they see. At ICF Next, we have featured African Americans as leads in some of our campaigns—including work for heart health and diabetes prevention on behalf of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Centers for Disease Control’s National Diabetes Prevention Program, respectively. A client partnership with actor Michael B. Jordan to support creative hustlers. And we’ve all seen the Skittles campaigns featuring NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch.
But 66% of African Americans said they feel their ethnic identity is often portrayed stereotypically. Just because we put an African American face in an ad doesn’t mean African Americans will naturally flock to a product.
Find the untold story
In a country seeing changing demographics, the U.S. media and advertising industries continue to lag in reflecting a broad portrayal of Black America. As marketers, communicators, and storytellers, we can do better. We can be more intentional in the stories we tell on behalf of our clients. That means telling the stories not often told and being deliberate in that pursuit. It means making a commitment to researching, understanding, and portraying diverse multicultural stories in print, campaigns, and creative. It means ensuring there are clear representations of African American men as loving fathers in campaigns. And it means making sure we are committed to the process of “getting it right.”
We can counsel our clients to think more broadly and be more inclusive about the audiences with whom they wish to communicate. We know that African Americans say that Black identity is extremely important or very important to who they are. But we also know that Black communities are not monolithic. Black communities in Detroit are different from those in Selma, which are different from those in Richmond, VA, which are different from those in DeSoto, TX. And even within those communities, there are unique differences. Income levels and education attainment also play key roles. It’s incumbent upon us to understand our audiences—and counsel our clients to not paint Black communities with a broad brushstroke. The nuances matter. And testing messages, creative, and concepts is critical. Soliciting feedback from these communities is what will set campaigns, programs, and brands apart.
And finally, we can involve a more diverse team to approach campaigns with a more authentic voice and lens. To produce the best campaigns and the messages that resonate the most, we need to ensure our teams include diversity at all stages of development. The account teams, the creative teams, and the outreach teams need to look like America, sound like America, and think like the ever-evolving America that has the potential to encounter our campaigns and our client brands.
My dad isn’t an NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer. He is a suburban government contractor in Virginia. But like Kobe, he’s an African American dad who loves his daughter.