Corporate America’s reluctant ad spending with Black-owned media called unfair

By Kiah Armstrong

NABJ Monitor

Corporate America spends billions on ads, but Black-owned media rarely sees much of it.

In May, McDonald’s announced an increase in ad spending with Black-owned media from 2% to 5% days after a $10 billion lawsuit alleged the fast food chain discriminated against Black-owned media.

Byron Allen, owner of Entertainment Studios and Weather Group, alleged in the lawsuit that McDonald’s had refused to contract with his Black-owned media company since Allen acquired the networks in 2018, even though the networks target broad audiences. 

Corporate America has always been reluctant to spend money with Black-owned media, Black media executives and entrepreneurs say. 

“From the outset, Black-owned media has had and still has difficulties attracting ad dollars from general market agencies,” said Paula Madison, NABJ founder and retired NBC Universal executive. 

According to Allen, African Americans represent 40% of McDonald’s customers. The 2% of its total advertising dollars that had been given to Black-owned media represents an economic exclusion that ends up leaving the Black community impoverished, he and other Black media entrepreneurs say. 

“Here’s the argument that we have been making for quite some time,” Roland Martin, CEO of Nu Vision Media, explained during his daily digital show “Roland Martin Unfiltered” the day Allen filed his lawsuit. “African Americans are representing a significant market share of various companies.” 

The fact that none of this money is circulating back to Black-owned businesses is unjust, Allen has explained in an open letter signed by Martin, Todd Brown, founder of Urban Edge Networks, Earl “Butch” Graves, CEO of Black Enterprise, and other Black entrepreneurs. With $170 billion being spent on advertising every year in the United States, Black-owned media receive only 1% of that.

Madison describes this phenomenon as advertisers’ disinterest in making sure that their dollars are disbursed fairly—basically racism. 

“The reality is that they can get a Black audience on ABC or ESPN, so a lot of times the ad agencies and advertisers completely overlook us,” she said.

This reluctance has led to fewer images of Black people in advertising. Young Black people don’t see models who reflect them, media experts say. 

“Even when we look at newscasts and we see the experts that are sitting there, whether the topic is public health, COVID-19 or economic trends, most often we’re not seeing African American men and women,” Dr. Sheila Brooks, founder of the NABJ Student Projects and SRB Communications says. 

Since 1990, Brooks has worked to ensure that Black-owned media are granted a seat at the table they’re constantly excluded from. She believes that as more African American reporters and anchors infiltrate corporate America, there will be more opportunities to amplify the voices of the Black community. 

Her solution is educating the community about a particular marketing campaign and educating corporate and government leaders about why they should spend ad dollars on the Black community. She also suggests that higher-ups allocate funds to budgets specific to cultural advertising with specific goals in mind for each Black-owned media company. She says this requires leaders to change the playbook to achieve equity.

“It’s no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a moral obligation and an organizational imperative for these major corporations to spend more money with Black media,” Brooks said.

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