Realizing Marketplace Opportunity: Early Research on the Black Consumer Market by Mainstream Marketers, 1930-1970

  • Judy Foster Davis College of Business, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti


Purpose – Efforts by mainstream American marketing companies to understand black consumers using formal research approaches from the 1930s-1970 are examined. The concepts of consumer economics and market opportunity analysis provide theoretical foundations.

Methodology/approach – This study is based on examination of rare books, documents and archival documents housed in several collections at the John w. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History at the Duke University Library system, along with other relevant academic and trade literature concerning research efforts directed at understanding black consumers.

Findings – Mainstream companies were motivated to pursue the black consumer market on the basis
of consumption habits, attractive demographic and psychographic characteristics, which was revealed by research findings available as early as the 1930s. During and after World War II, research results were made available to corporate executives through the mainstream business press, academic literature, professional associations and internal efforts. African-American entrepreneurs and marketing professionals were instrumental in directing the data collection and providing interpretation of research results.

Implications/Research limitations – The availability of credible research and the involvement of
black professionals led to significant change in the recognition of the black consumer market, the
development of appropriate appeals directed at black consumers and improvement in the portrayals of black people in marketing executions.

Originality/Value – Given that the historical record on research concerning the black consumer
market is limited, this examination expands the literature by introducing information from rare,
confidential and proprietary materials not previously available to the public.


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