by Cíntia Cardoso
Recent releases of specific products for black consumers confirm this trend. The growing black middle class in Brazil, however, has not yet overcome the barrier of invisibility in other segments.
The low representation of African descendants in the forefront of consumer advertisements for Class A and B (1) is not really a new fact, but with 14% of blacks and browns among the richest portion of the population – those with income above R$1,300 – the power to influence this market begins to appear.
“In this world of symbolic consumption, the black middle class still sees itself restricted to cosmetic products. There are few advances when we seek to see the image of blacks associated with products, goods and possession of status”, assessed the social scientist Ângela Figueiredo, of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).
Although specific data on the consumption of the black population is precarious, Luis Grottera publicist, of the TBWA agency, thinks it’s underrated. “I think that the trend is strong growth in the next five years, but for now, the only segment that developed was that of cosmetics. I don’t see any other segment with strategic importance.”
On the consumer side, Vilma Lúcia Warner seconds the chorus of discontent. “I only see blacks like me in ads of popular consumer products of dubious quality,” complains Warner, the owner of a language school who lives in Alto de Pinheiros, an upper middle class neighborhood, in São Paulo.
The foreign trade representative João Carlos Martins also complains. “We also eat, we also get dressed, we also buy cars, but entrepreneurs don’t see this. Neither does it seem that we are almost 50% of the population,” he says (2).
Advertisers and multinationals in the business of beauty are going all out to court this market. Johnson & Johnson unveiled plans to launch a sunscreen for black skin for the Sundown brand. “We heard several women of African descent and they complained about the lack of a sun protection product specifically for them,” said Daniel Izzo, product manager of the brand. R$5 million (about US$2.5 million) was to be invested according to the company.
“When I set up the factory, there was a lot of prejudice, people didn’t believe in the buying potential of blacks. Incidentally, there was no interest in knowing what products that we needed,” says cosmetics entrepreneur Rui Nascimento. Today the company sells an average of R$1,200 (about US$600) monthly for each of the hair salons it serves. In the portfolio of clients, there are about 30 salons. And 90% of production is destined for blacks.
The desire to attract black consumers, however, may run into the propagation of stereotypes, such as the launch of Unilever. “The advertising was terrible and only reinforced prejudices,” says the sociologist about the Rexona Ebony deodorant back in 2003, which promised “double protection” for consumers.
The company defends itself. “Unilever at no time would act in a prejudiced or inconsequential manner with any citizen, group or origin,” said Andrea Rolim, category manager at Unilever.
The executive notes that the group has several products aimed at the ethnic market and that the market share of Rexona, after the release of Ebony, rose from 29.4% in July 2003 to 33.2% the following year.
To Grottera, of the agency TBWA, the evolution of the cosmetics segment in the last decade shows that there is potential for larger jumps in other areas. Research conducted by the agency among African descendants in 1997, showed that among the 1,500 people polled: 54% wanted to earn more money, 44% wanted to open their own business, 43% plan to buy or trade a car and 39% plan to travel. “Today, I believe that desires remain the same. Companies from other sectors have to be aware of this trend. They are neglecting an important market,” says the publicist.
It’s not only in the advertising market where browns and blacks may face difficulties to ascend. In Brazilian companies, the racial barrier persists forcefully. In high-level executives, the percentage of blacks is 1.8% versus 96.5% of whites. The data are from research done in 2003 by the Ethos Institute.
“This problem persists in part because of prejudice and partly because companies say there are no black candidates. It’s necessary then to change the sources of recruitment,” said Oded Grajew, president of Ethos. This paradigm shift in admission of workers, he argues, would be beneficial for the companies themselves and would also help to boost the growth of the black middle class.
1. For a description and breakdown of Brazil’s economic class structure see here
2. These opinions and comments seem to suggest that black Brazilians continue to be passed over and underrepresented in the advertising industry. Researchers on this topic in the early part of the 21st century found that featuring black Brazilians in positive, prominent images showing middle class status were “unacceptable”, with one advertising firm representative saying clients didn’t like seeing blacks in ads so he had to remove them. More on this here. In turn, the advertising industry, like so many other areas in Brazilian society continues to promote the ideal of white superiority.