The 1970s reflected a new spirit of racial pride in African Americans. Inspired by the Black Power Movement, blacks began to develop new cultural identities based on self-defined values. African and African American culture and history were celebrated and the slogan "Black is Beautiful," was embraced as a strong statement of pro-black group identity.
American businesses were interested in how black America was changing, but it was for economic reasons. The purchasing power of the black urban market was big and growing. However, blacks didn't follow the same purchasing patterns as whites, and for many companies the black community was a mystery. Seeing this trend, Tom Burrell turned corporate America's limited understanding of the black life and culture into a professional opportunity and in the process changed the face of American advertising.
In 1971 Burrell founded a small advertising agency in Chicago to help large corporate clients connect with the expanding African American market. His genius was in creating advertising messages with positive social and cultural images of African Americans that also had a strong appeal for broader white audiences. Many corporations were unsure about using black culture to sell products, however Burrell was confident that America's fascination with black life would draw viewers and create positive results.
Today, Burrell Communication Group is one of the largest African American-owned advertising firms in the nation. Burrell, now Chairman Emeritus of the agency that bears his name, remains a nationally recognized leader in the fields of marketing and advertising.
Tom Burrell explains how the "Black is Beautiful" movement inspired him to bring positive images of blacks into advertising.
Tom Burrell recalls why corporate advertisers were fearful that blacks in television commercials would turn off white viewers.
Tom Burrell tells why negative images of African Americans today are more damaging than those from earlier generations.