The parallel world of American advertising targeted toward African-Americans, 1950-1960


In the 1950s and 1960s, a 'parallel world' of American advertising existed, where mainstream brands targeted the African-American middle and upper classes in major magazines such as Ebony and Jet. These ads never worked in wider society and showed a very different face of Black America at the time.

It is said that many of these advertisements were literally created by John Harold Johnson, the founder of the Johnson Publishing Company dynasty. His hugely successful magazines Ebony and Jet – as well as other titles – catered to the black middle and upper classes and he felt that readers would be more inclined to buy from mainstream companies that really liked him and his spending power. used to accept.

John Harold Johnson personally branded the idea that they should use Black models for their audience if they expected to see high sales. When some companies (reluctantly) tried it, they realized that the results were so dramatic that it made sure they would continue. As a result, Johnson's publication and, later, others like him, saw an explosion of targeted ads.

However, given that segregation and state-sanctioned discrimination against black people was still law enforced at this time - only black wealth was acknowledged and respected in these journals. Outside of their own businesses and networks in the US, black people were still banned from entering many stores and actively prohibited from trying on items when entry was permitted.

It is so fascinating that parallel media worlds existed in one nation, the Black One – where mainstream companies portrayed Black people as many people who knew each other... and the 'White', where Black people were was completely ignored.

In the US, African-Americans first appeared in advertisements during the 1870s, when color lithography was first used to print business cards. The cards varied greatly in subject matter, although game figures and ethnic humor were the two most popular forms. Some of the photos were explicitly racist. One of the most outrageous shows abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass with his second wife, a white woman, taking a product called sulfur bitters to lighten his skin.

From the early 20th century to the mid-1960s, advertisements using stereotypical images of African-Americans circulated throughout the U.S. were widespread. Some of the images became American symbols and are still used on products today. Blacks were made to appear submissive and ignorant as well as ugly and quirky. And if domestic work or bureaucratic work was involved, blacks were considered best suited for the job.

Aunt Jemima is best known among the stereotypical African-American advertising characters. The Aunt Jemima trademark, which first appeared in 1889, was a landmark development: Aunt Jemima, the first ready-made pancake mix, foreshadows the era of convenience products; It was the first product to use a black person as a trademark; And the product's marketer was the first to promote the idea of ​​giving away a product to attract new customers.

From the end of slavery to the period of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the U.S. Advertisements in the U.S. continued to show blacks as Aunt Jemimas, Uncle Baines and the Rastuse persons subordinate to whites. Business cards, advertising stamps, blotters, tins and bottles are usually depicted in black with plump lips, bulging eyes and a distorted mouth. Many saw these images of slavery as promoting a kind of psychological bondage that was just as harmful as physical slavery.

African-American consumers were targeted as a specific market segment as early as 1916, when a gas company in Rock Hill, SC worked with a church group and local government to operate a cooking school for black servants. had worked for. Advertisements for his efforts led to the sale of 12 kitchen ranges by the gas company. The early recording industry discovered a significant market among blacks in 1920 when Columbia Records released "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith. And in 1922, the Fuller Brush Company hired four teachers as salespeople for the black consumer market in Tulsa.

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