This Black Santa seen in CVS stores across the country is one way that corporations appear to try harder to reach African-Americans and other consumers of color. But levels of active advertising with Black media that reach Black consumers remains disappointing. (Courtesy of Trice Edney News Wire)
This Black Santa seen in CVS stores across the country is one way that corporations appear to try harder to reach African-Americans and other consumers of color. But levels of active advertising with Black media that reach Black consumers remains disappointing. (Courtesy of Trice Edney News Wire)

African-Americans want more for themselves and from corporate America, and they express it with their dollars as they move through the consumer journey, from brand awareness to purchase, as recently revealed in Nielsen’s 2019 Diverse Intelligence Series (DIS) Report on African Americans.

The report, “It’s in the Bag: Black Consumers’ Path to Purchase,” explores the non-linear and uniquely technologically driven road that African Americans follow to make purchasing decisions, which ultimately maximizes both online and in-person shopping options. This path highlights several differences in shopping behavior and purchasing when compared to the total U.S. population. The report also includes deeper insights into how culture, socio-economics and business influences how, why and what motivates African- American spending in a special co-authored section by advocate and media commentator Angela Rye, CEO and Principal of Impact Strategies.

“At 47.8 million strong and a buying power that’s on par with many countries’ gross domestic products, African Americans continue to outpace spending nationally,” said Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s senior vice president of Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement and co-creator of the DIS Report. “This year, we wanted to help brands and marketers understand the multifaceted process that Blacks take to buy the products they buy. There are several drivers, but culture is at the center of them all. Further, with their love for technology, they are much more savvy and conscious consumers. They are as we say, ‘woke.’ They pay attention to how companies are speaking to them. As they spend more, they want more for themselves and from the brands they support.”

Dating back to 2011, this is Nielsen’s ninth report highlighting the media consumption, purchasing habits, lifestyle interests and economic advancements of African Americans. It is the third in a theme, released by Nielsen this year following the comprehensive purchasing processes of Asian American and Latinx consumers. Key takeaways from the report include:

African-Americans are welcoming recipients of advertising across all channels. However, while the trends of the Black buying power and over-indexing in spending continue to increase, companies’ investments to advertise to them have decreased.

  • African Americans are more likely than the total population to agree that advertising provides meaningful information on most platforms, including mobile (42 percent higher), television (23 percent higher), radio (21 percent higher) and the internet (18 percent higher).
  • Advertising spend designed to reach Black consumers declined 5 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Physical appearance reflects a sense of cultural pride and self-expression in the Black community. This is evidenced by the top spending priorities for African Americans from everyday soap to luxury handbags.

  • African Americans outspend the total market on personal soap and bath needs by nearly 19 percent ($573.6 million).
  • Men are making an impact with grooming habits, outpacing the total market by 20 percent on toiletry items.
  • Blacks are 20 percent more likely than the total population to say they will “pay extra for a product that is consistent with the image I want to convey.”
  • They are also more likely to say they shop at high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue (63 percent), Neiman Marcus (45 percent) and Bloomingdales (24 percent).

While online shopping grows, African Americans continue to head to physical stores for the personal touch and feel experience — but with more discerning eyes.

  • More than half (52 percent) of African Americans find in-store shopping relaxing, compared with 26 percent of the total population.
  • 55 percent of Black consumers say they enjoy wandering the store looking for new, interesting products.
  • When shopping, African Americans are more influenced than the total population by store staff (34 percent more likely), in-store advertising (28 percent more likely) and merchandising (27 percent more likely).

The “for us by us” trend of Black-owned brands is profoundly impacting the African American path to purchase and consumer marketplace. Black consumers support brands that align with their lifestyles and values.

  • African Americans dominate the ethnic hair and beauty aids category, accounting for almost 90 percent of the overall spend.
  • 42 percent of Black adults expect brands they purchase to support social causes (16 percent higher than the total population).
  • 35 percent of African American shoppers are more likely to agree, “when a celebrity designs a product, I am more likely to buy it.”
  • Procter & Gamble (P&G) is the largest advertiser in African American media, spending more than a half-billion dollars ($544.3 million). Five of the top 20 baby care category products come from P&G’s Pampers and Luvs brands.

Soul food drives African American consumers’ top grocery purchases. These consumers are also passionate about the environment, wanting to buy safe, locally sourced food items.

  • African Americans outpace the general market on: Quaker grits ($19 million); Louisiana Fish Fry ($11 million); Glory Greens (frozen and fresh, $9.5 million combined) and Jay’s Potato Chips (nearly $2.7 million).
  • 61 percent say produce is the most important category to buy local, followed by bakery and prepared foods (56 percent), eggs (55 percent) and dairy (52 percent).
  • Blacks over-index the total population concerned about food safety issues: antibiotic use in animal production (by 20 percent); artificial ingredients (by 19 percent) and GMO crop development due to climate change.The biggest worry is rising prices due to trade tariffs (68 percent Blacks vs. 56 percent total population).

“Nielsen continues to unearth undeniable data and insights that highlight both the agency and power of Black consumers, and the plethora of opportunities that exist for companies that are focused on nurturing and empowering how they move through the world,” said Jonathan Jackson, former 2019 Nieman-Berkman Klein Fellow in Journalism Innovation at The Nieman Foundation for Journalism and member of Nielsen’s African American External Advisory Council.

Nielsen uses U.S. Census data to determine population estimates that inform its U.S. panels and its understanding of consumer behavior. Given the rapid diversification of the U.S. population, an accurate census has never been more important. That’s why Nielsen has signed on as a 2020 Census Official Partner with the U.S. Census Bureau, and utilized census data to show the economic and demographic impact of African American consumers. This is the second time the company has leveraged this partnership for the Diverse Intelligence Series, after the 2019 Latinx consumer report, released in August.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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