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Forbes, which is a respected business magazine, offers a feature this week on how major corporations are aiming a major part of their advertising and marketing efforts at the African American consumer. Writes Sonia Thompson of Forbes, many big brands, including McDonald’s, Ford and General Mills, have adopted a strategy of aiming at certain niches and it has paid dividends for them. In an Advertising Age special report, leaders from these companies explained why they’ve made African-Americans their lead consumer. Mark Addicks is retired now, but as the chief marketing officer at General Mills, he gave insight into why they made that strategic choice. It’s hard to imagine the American cultural landscape without the influence and impact of African Americans. They represent all of the iconic cultural markers of our society: business, music, entertainment, fashion, sports, government and education. In every aspect they’re seen as cultural thought leaders, he said. He went on to add: “My advice to marketers seeking to connect with African-American consumers is to think of them as lead consumers to influence your market. You can start to market their ideas to the general market; they can influence an entire campaign if you get close to them. Although they represent 12 to 13 percent of consumers, their influence on consumption can be much bigger than that. You can do brand campaigns with African Americans at their heart that can drive the entire business.” In the Ad Age report, McDonald’s Chief Marketing Officer Neil Golden echoed that finding. In referring to two of their most popular campaigns over the last few decades, he noted they were “remarkably insightful to African-American consumers, yet still have a high relevance for the general audience.” Jim Farley, group vice-president at Ford, shared how this insight became a core driver of their Explorer launch: “One of our most popular campaigns with dealers and consumers was a TV commercial for the new Ford Explorer with comedian Kevin Hart. It was developed for African-American audiences, but [then] we used it for the general market —it was one of our key ads for the Explorer launch.” The right niche influences the masses, and that influence can grow your business. This has played out on a number of different fronts. Earlier this year, the movie “Black Panther,” which featured a nearly all-Black cast and had a storyline set in Africa, smashed a boatload of box office records around the world to become the fourth highest grossing film in U.S. history. While many African-Americans (even those who weren’t diehard fans of the Marvel franchise) flocked to go see the movie, there were plenty of eager non-Black moviegoers that contributed to its massive success. The music festival Coachella led with diversity earlier this year when it booked Beyoncé as the first Black-woman headliner ever. Not only did the festival attract all Beyoncé’s fans who may not have previously been interested in Coachella, but also it continued to satisfy its existing base. Beyoncé’s opening weekend Coachella performance was live streamed on YouTube. It was the most watched Coachella performance ever, and the most watched music festival performance ever for the entire YouTube platform. One of the reasons why this niche-first strategy works so well is that it draws an audience closer to you that has largely been ignored by other brands. When you design products, services and experiences with them in mind, they quickly recognize and appreciate that you are speaking to them. And while you are showing your niche audience that they do indeed belong with you, you’re not forsaking your other customers in the process. Michael Smith, senior vice-president and general manager at Scripps Network, explained why this is the case: “According to research, we have seen over the years, if you make something with an all-White cast, a White audience won’t notice it. But a minority audience will notice it. And if you make something that has a significant presence of minority characters or a minority host, White audiences don’t notice that either. White Americans are just not as conscious of the ethnicity. But audience members of color will really feel good about it.”