Wealthy blacks are next big target for marketers

Diversity is paying off for ABC shows
Diversity is paying off for ABC shows

Wealthy black consumers are a growing economic powerhouse and one that American marketers and media companies should be paying very close attention to, according to a Nielsen report released today.

The report, which defines black Americans as African-Americans and black immigrants, focused on those households with annual income of $75,000 or more.

As a whole, blacks in the United States have $1.1 trillion in buying power, said Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, senior vice president of U.S. strategic community alliances and consumer engagement at Nielsen. "You can't ignore that."

Median income for blacks earning $200,000 or more increased 138% between 2005 and 2013, according to Nielsen's report. Meanwhile, median income for the overall population of people earning those amounts climbed by 74% during that time.

The report "tells a story that no one else is talking about," Pearson-McNeil said. While media tends to emphasize stories about poverty and lack of education in the black community, "if that's all you're being fed, that's all you know about yourself, it's all brands know about you."

Indeed, while affluent blacks are seeing major gains in income, the overall wealth gap between blacks and whites in the U.S. has been persistent for decades. In 2013, the median wealth for a white family was $134,008 compared to $11,184 for black families.

According to Census data released this week, some 26.2% of blacks were in poverty in 2014. And black children are also more likely to live in poverty than children of other races.

Part of what's driving the economic numbers for affluent blacks is the influx of black immigrants to the United States, which account for 8.7% of the overall black population, or one in every 11 blacks, according to Nielsen's report.

According to the report, the median household income for foreign-born blacks is 30% higher than that of blacks born in the U.S. "As we move into the presidential election season, immigration is top of mind, but the black population is rarely included in that discussion," Pearson-McNeil said.

Blacks are also seeing gains in education, with college enrollment among this group hitting 71% last year and high school graduation rates hovering at about the same percentage. Yet blacks are still significantly underrepresented in many high-paying fields. In 2011, they comprised 6% of workers in science and technology jobs and about 7% of medical school students.

Black consumers are also driving change in media, particularly on television. Shows like ABC's "Scandal" and "How to Get Away with Murder" and Fox's breakout hit, "Empire" all feature prominent black leads and supporting casts and have each done consistently well.

According to Nielsen, "Empire" and 'Scandal" were the top two prime time shows among black households earning more than $100,000 in 2015, making this an attractive demographic for advertisers. ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder" and awards shows like the Grammy's and the Oscars rounded out the top five highest-rated shows for this demographic.

Much of that success has been propelled by the cultural phenomenon colloquially known as "Black Twitter," where black Twitter users discuss everything from pop culture to politics. According to the report, Fox's "Empire" had an average Twitter audience of more than 2.6 million people, while ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" gathered nearly 1.6 million.

(Perhaps the strongest example yet of the power of Black Twitter has been the organizing potential of the anti-police brutality movement #BlackLivesMatter, which has gotten nearly 4.8 million mentions on Twitter, and other related hashtags created in response to the killings of blacks at the hands of police.)

For brands, the power of social media to reach blacks is undeniable, Pearson-McNeil said. "Social media is really one of the primary ways that black consumers share what they like and what they don't like,' she said. "We do love general market media, but we also love the media that has a special focus on us because we can see ourselves reflected."


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