Network execs: take note.
According to a new report published by Nielsen, African-American viewers carry a lot of weight when it comes to audience and purchasing power.
The market research firm’s latest African-American consumer study, titled Resilient, Receptive and Relevant, details the need for corporations and marketers to connect with black audiences, who now have a buying power of $1 trillion and watch significantly more television than any other group.
The report found African-Americans favor programming with diverse casts, and that African-American women watch more television than men.
Top television shows perhaps unexpectedly include reality TV programs and Scandal.
More surprising, however, may be the lack of attention paid to the findings, which have been published for the last three years.
“It’s not only that the African-American audience watches more TV, but it’s substantially more – two hours over other groups,” Ron Simon, head curator at The Paley Center for Media, tells theGrio. “It’s known in the industry, but it certainly hasn’t gotten the attention I think that it deserves.”
‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work
According to the report, African-Americans watch 37 percent more television than other demographics, and their consumption proclivities are equally influential.
In fact, researchers predict their buying power will rise to $1.3 trillion by the year 2017.
Ongoing population growth and increases in educational attainment influence these figures.
Conversely, while advertisers spend $75 billion on television, magazine, Internet, and radio ads, only $2.24 billion of that sum is put towards media focused on black audiences.
Rather than create a strategy to effectively target individuals within this demographic, marketers appear to approach it as if the black identity was uniform.
“It’s kind of like when you’re fishing, and you cast out a really big net because you know you’re going to be able to catch many fish in the sea simply because they’re there,” comments Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, SVP, Public Affairs and Government Relations at Nielsen. “That’s sort of the premise that advertisers may be thinking. That if we cast a wide enough net because blacks are already watching television, then we’re sure to capture them as well. That way we don’t necessarily have to spend additional dollars or inclusive dollars to reach out to the media we know directly speaks to them more.”
This way of thinking, explains Pearson-McNeil, ignores the nuance of the African-American community, and fails to capitalize upon an opportunity to reach key consumers.
“It goes beyond simply having a black or brown person slipped into the commercial,” she comments.
Effectively pursuing black audiences
And targeted advertising could make a substantial impression.
While the African-American household earns less than market average, their annual retail spending accounts for 87 percent of total market retail spending, demonstrating “vitality and resiliency.”
Blacks purchase ethnic hair and beauty products nine times more than other groups, and overall they shop more.
Knowing this and that a majority of African-Americans are receptive to products advertised using black media, the fact such a smidgen of advertising dollars is allocated on this demographic seems like a gross oversight.
Especially when advertising campaigns work.
“When you look by industry what the top spending categories were with media focused on black audiences, you see quick service restaurants, which is fast food restaurants,” says Pearson-McNeil. “If you look at the fast food restaurants and quick service restaurants that we broke out in the report, you’ll see that those top restaurants, out of the four that advertise with African-American media, those are also likely to be the four restaurants that blacks have eaten in within the last three months.”
The need for diversifying television networks
Also missing the boat, TV programmers could take greater advantage of the huge market they have within black viewership.
Right now, network stations don’t tend to feature black casts, and cable channels focus heavily on reality series like the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Real Husbands of Hollywood, and Love & Hip-Hop.
If African-Americans are the majority audience and prefer diversity, studio executives could expand casting directives to be more inclusive of people of color across all types of programming.
That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case.
Look at the current line-up of fall comedies on major networks – not one primetime sitcom centers on a black family.
“For 20 years, there’s been a substantial commitment especially to integrating sitcoms with African-American families, and now that has sort of dissipated,” Simon observes.
Also notable, African-Americans prefer cable channels like BET, VH1, TV One, Bounce TV and Centric, all of which are reality-heavy.
“Reality for the past 13 years has been a big trend, but I’m not sure if that’s exactly what an audience wants,” says Simon. “Obviously, if you had a diverse cast in other types of programming and in new programming then that certainly could appeal to the African-American audience.”
He adds, “It seems like some of the networks fixate on one big idea and then you sort of lose other possibilities.”
Blackness is not ‘monolithic’
To study television habits, Nielsen researchers gathered data from households across the country, and looked at viewing patterns of African-Americans over six months.
As Pearson-McNeil points out, networks place a large emphasis on Nielsen ratings and are aware of the reports, which is likely a reason reality shows proliferate.
Like everyone else, black people want to see their image reflected, and, thus, will find what’s offered.
Additionally, African-Americans are 44 percent more likely than others to create a social media profile, and have been known to socialize television experiences.
“There are a lot of implications in terms of the audience viewing programs, but also how advertisers advertise and target audiences and how we go about creating shows,” Simon remarks. “It’s not just massively consuming shows within the African-American audience, but communicating through new technology about their favorite shows.”
Pearson-McNeil suggests companies pay attention to the diversity of the African-American community.
“We’re not a monolithic population,” she says. “You can’t treat an 18-year-old African-American male the same way you can treat a 52-year-old black female. You have to understand the nuances that they each bring to the table, determine which product is more applicable to meet their needs, and design your advertising strategy around their needs and not just around the fact that they’re black.”