The power of “Black Money”: Afro-Brazilians becoming more conscious of how and with whom they spend their money, seek to support black businesses
By Marques Travae
It’s a fact. Businesses that don’t take the race or ethnicity of their potential customers into consideration could be creating a grave error and a costly one. In Brazil of the past decade or so, more and more black Brazilians have been seeking more representation in every facet of their lives. They have expressed the desire to see more black Brazilians in TV programs, in product advertisements, in the universities, in upper management positions of top companies and also want to see their culture represented in clothing brands.
Recent data courtesy of the Instituto Locomotiva shows us that the spending power of Brazil’s preto/pardo (black/brown) population is in the neighborhood of about R$1.7 trillion (reais). In a capitalist society like Brazil, it’s clear that every company wants a slice of this near R$2 trillion pie, but how many of them are willing to reach these consumers by making a concerted effort at diversifying their company representation and advertising campaigns in order to make the preto/pardo population feel more connected to the products of these companies?
With the enormous success of the film Black Panther (Pantera Negra in Brazil), as well as the growing popularity of events such as Feira Preta, Festival de Arte Negra, Back 2 Black and others, companies must recognize that there is a new identification with blackness that didn’t exist just a few decades ago.
In recent years we’ve seen numerous examples of black Brazilians reacting to openly racist behavior, practices and actions, as well as a lack of black representation they’ve taken note of in stores, restaurants, universities and the media. These events have led to protests, calls for boycotts and campaigns organized online.
It’s November, Novembro Negro, or Black November, as it is unofficially known in black circles and officially known as the Mês de Consciência Negra, or Month of Black Consciousness. It’ the month in which we see a mass number of seminars, presentations, shows, performances, expos, etc. organized around the theme of black consciousness. And as usual, it is the month of Feira Preta, the black expo event that was arguably the spark that initiated a new movement of black products, black consumers black entrepreneurs and black money nearly two decades ago.
Feira Preta, that annually attracts tens of thousands of consumers to the biggest event of cultura negra (black culture) in Latin America, is set to go down this week in São Paulo. In Feira Preta’s ongoing participation, focus and analysis of the black consumer market in Brazil, the organization has partnered with Instituto Locomotiva and Itaú Unibanco to carry out research on the buying trends of the black community by getting the opinions of not only black consumers but also black entrepreneurs.
The study resulting from the partnership is entitled “A Voz e a Vez: Diversidade no Mercado de Consumo e Empreendedorismo” (the voice and the time: diversity in the consumer and entrepreneurial market) presents previously unpublished data in research conducted through interviews with 661 black consumers and 225 black entrepreneurs, all of whom participate in the Feira Preta network.
“We want to draw attention to the potential of the black population as an entrepreneur and consumer in the country. The survey takes a look at the participation of blacks in the economy and shows the opportunities for brands and companies that can still be exploited,” says Preta Feira founder and president, Adriana Barbosa.
“If I don’t see myself, I don’t buy”
Another practice that has emerged and gained popularity among black Brazilians in recent years in the so-called “Se não me vejo, não compro”, or ‘if I don’t see myself, I don’t buy’ movement. The slogan basically represents what the movement is all about. Afro-Brazilians have long taken note of their invisibility in the products beig promoted by Brazil’s top companies. They see very few black models in the advertisements that promote the products being sold by these companies. For this reason arose the Tá Bom pra Você? (Is it Good for You?) video series on YouTube starring the family of actor Érico Brás and wife Kênia Dias. The video series spoofs TV commercials of hair products, toothpaste, etc. to bring exposure to the absence of black actors and actresses in these commercials. This invisibility was also behind the controversy that arose behind a TV commercial aired by the company Boticário that featured an all black family in a Father’s Day ad back in August.
The cause for concern is well-founded.
One study of Black Friday ads in some of Brazil’s top clothing stores found that ads featured between 90-99% white models employed to represent the company’s products. This in a country in which more than half of the population defines itself as either preto or pardo.
Decades ago, there wasn’t must demand in terms of products that represent aspects of black culture or simply black bodies used to model the products. There wasn’t much choice in the products and very few voices of dissent objecting to the overwhelming whiteness representing the consumer industry.But with the rise of black identity politics, this has changed. For example, the “A Voz e a Vez” study found that 98% of consumers prefer products that incorporate some sort of black theme and 95% said they would boycott products they found to have racist or prejudicial content. And it’s not like we don’t have numerous examples of racist advertisement content (see here, here and here, for just a few examples).
Interestingly, the “A Voz e a Vez” also demonstrated just how committed and how far people were willing to go to stand for more representation in consumer products. The study found that nearly half of those interviewed for the research affirmed that they would be willing to spend up to 20% more on products if they featured elements of black culture.
And it’s not only black consumers who sense this bias in the consumer and products industry. Black entrepreneurs have also identified a difference in treatment when they undertake entering the business world. In fact, 94% interviewed voiced the opinion that black people experience prejudice when they open businesses and perhaps understanding the necessity of sticking together, 70% said they prioritize hiring black employees. Black entrepreneurs in the study also listed difficulty in dissemination, promotion and a lack of access to credit as obstacles that made opening and maintaining their own businesses as obstacles.
Other intriguing data coming out of the study revealed:
– Ethnic Racial Empowerment is the subject of major interest of the consumers (86%), in second place comes art/culture (80%), education/courses (77%) and finally, music (71%);
– 91% of black consumers in the Feira Preta network have already bought products targeted specifically to the black public;
– 87% say they consciously give preference to products offered by black entrepreneurs;
– 79% said they are willing to pay more for these products and services;
– 9 out of 10 consumers would stop going to commercial establishments if they knew of any cases racism committed by officials at those places;
– 8 out of 10 consumers would like to know if companies value diversity;
– 80% of entrepreneurs agree that getting credit is easier for white entrepreneurs than for black entrepreneurs;
– 57% of entrepreneurs feel embarrassed when they need to go to the bank to request financial services for their company.