Black Marketing Legends

The Voice of a Community that Has Influenced and Shaped Our Industry

Marketing and advertising have a long history that has been whitewashed. As February is Black History Month, we want to highlight the tip of the black marketer’s iceberg, reintroducing readers to three names they should know. 

Thomas J. Burrell

Burrell was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up on Chicago’s South Side. After taking an aptitude test in high school, Burrell decided to pursue advertising. Attending Roosevelt University in Chicago, he majored in English and minored in advertising.

While still in college, Burrell was hired by Wade Advertising after being the only African American to apply. Using this as an opportunity to learn, he soon became an advertising copywriter working on national accounts and later worked for other agencies before opening Burrell McBain Advertising Agency with Emmett McBain. 

The agency quickly gained two significant clients: McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. 

Building lasting partnerships with national brands, the agency created its legacy as the most prominent African American marketing firm in America. 

Burell has received many awards in his time. For more information and an in-depth look at his life, please visit Black Past

Barbara Gardner Proctor

The scene is 1969 – a Chicago advertising agency worked on a concept parodying the social justice marches of the time in order to sell hair-care products. 

One of the staff members assigned to the project was Barbara Gardner Proctor – an unamused black woman. Refusing to participate in such a parody, Proctor was fired which set the stage for history to be made. 

In a quote sourced from the NY Times, she said “It became quite apparent to me that if I did not begin to control my own destiny, I was going to have it changed about every five years.” 

One year goes by and Proctor became the first black woman in the United States to found their own ad agency – Proctor & Gardner. No partner to name, the two name agency was created to leave the impression there might be a male associate. 

Proctor & Gardner was built into a multimillion-dollar company. 

In regards to starting a widely successful business, Proctor said “You can only do it when you don’t know you can’t do it.” 

Moss Kendrix

We all want to be represented – for the better, not the worst. Moss Kendrix changed how black Americans are showcased in media and advertising.

Kendrix is credited with leaving a lasting legacy and imprint on the way black persons are portrayed through advertising / marketing. At the time and in previous years, black people were portrayed with derogatory images and in a negative connotation.  Kendrix helped to enlighten America of their misactions through educating corporate clients about the buying power of black Americans. 

Most notable of his works, the Coca-Cola proposal, occurred in the early 1950s when he made the pitch to Coca-Cola that would change how Coke was marketed to the African American community. He was hired to deliver the proposal and in turn became the first African American to acquire a major corporate account. 

The pitch brought Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ first baseman, to the forefront of advertising with a three part proposal. 

Robinson, the recipient of several honors in regards to his athletic ability and good sportsmanship in 1947, including being named “rookie of the year,” made him the perfect pick to be the new face of Coke. 

The proposal for one company forever changed the view of marketing within African American communities. 

Want to read more on the proposal or Kendrix’ contributions to advertising and public relations? Check out this article for a deeper dive. 

Black Lives Matter

Read it again.

This month and every month, there are black entrepreneurs, workers, artists and great minds working to shatter expectations, break glass ceilings and excel beyond anyone’s comprehension. 

While this blog focuses on three names of the past – the future and present are filled with black success stories, too.

Chelsea Hugunin

Chelsea Hugunin (they / them) has a love for words and the way they work together. Graduating from IUPUI in the fall of 2015 with degree in journalism, they've written blogs for organizations, nonprofit and for profit, and freelanced for newspapers, magazines, online projects and more.

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