Why Black dads are a major missed opportunity for the holidays

Brian Owens, SVP strategy, VMLY&R Commerce
Brian Owens, SVP strategy, VMLY&R Commerce

Black dads are tech-savvy, mobile-first and engaged in holiday shopping for their kids.

When it comes to commerce, Black fathers over-index on influencers and celebrities and are more likely to shop on mobile than the average consumer. 

But marketers are extremely bad at targeting Black dads – and possibly reluctant to. The vast majority of above-the-line advertising simply does not reflect our outlooks and desires. It may be inclusive in terms of casting, but it doesn’t feature the music we listen to, the ideas and values we share or our unique experiences as parents. It’s just not made for us. 

Mobile makes much more sense to us. According to Nielsen, Black people are much more tech-savvy and likely to try out new technology than the average consumer, with nearly all Black households owning at least one smartphone. We not only find the content that resonates with us on mobile, but we also signal to automated marketing systems what kinds of things we are interested in. 

In other words, we are self-selecting our own marketing – not being intelligently targeted with ads designed for us. This is a huge missed opportunity for brands, especially as the holidays approach.

Black households may not have as big of a share of the economic pie as they should, but they still represent a $1.3 trillion market. For their part, Black dads over-index on openness to try new products, making them great targets for CPG and other brands. Moreover, they are involved and take part in their kids’ lives more than almost any other group. 

Data from the US National Health Statistics tells us that non-coresident Black dads are:

  • More likely to have played with their kids (75%) in the last week than the average dad (60%)

  • More likely to have read to them (53%) than average dads (48%)

  • More likely to have talked to them about their days (79%) than average dads (63%)

These findings hold broadly across a wide range of activities – and, they reflect my own experience. 

As a father to Oliva, age 5, I’ve found being a dad to be a voyage of excitement, vulnerability and commitment. Excitement in the sense of how selfless I can be for my daughter and the lengths I will go to make her laugh. Vulnerability, because I learn more about myself from her every day, which helps me identify my own fears. And commitment, because I learned at a young age that it takes a village to raise a child, and when you’re focused on that, traditional gender roles often fly out the window. 

That’s why when it comes to shopping, I’m engaged and, frankly, enjoy it.

Black dads should be on brands’ radars this holiday season. This isn’t hard: the data exists for any brand that is willing to make the effort. We can bring Black dads into the conversation and find out what motivates them, gleaning real insights and then creating content that clicks with them. 

Start with data. As with any consumer group, we have to bring together the necessary data to gain an informed point of view on Black dads. Let’s get rid of any stereotypes and preconceived notions. Data should fuel insights to help us understand what inspires Black dads and what they want for themselves and their kids. This is neither difficult nor revolutionary; it just hasn’t been done in a systematic way.

Get creative. One of the biggest barriers to addressing this audience is that people in the industry are too afraid to make a mistake. As a result, they have not gained the experience necessary to provide good content. And remember, this is a mobile-first audience – so let’s build social experiences that show Black dads how products and services can better support both their families’ and community’s unmet needs.  

Add in commerce. Knowing what people want is nearly as important as knowing how they want to buy it. Any strategy designed to reach Black dads needs to have a commerce component. It’s important to make mobile commerce easy, seamless and available where the audience is most likely to be. That’s not necessarily Amazon, but could be shoppable experiences inside creator content.

Tap into empathy. Data can get you so far, but empathy has to take you the rest of the way. Being a dad is tough. Brands need to pay attention to the particular stresses and opportunities — not to mention moments of joy — that Black dads experience.

Black fathers represent a huge, untapped market, and they’re about to go on a big buying spree for their kids. Brands have all the necessary tools and building blocks to connect with them intelligently and empathetically. But to find success, they need to bring together data, insight, technology and a sense of shared understanding. 

As Notorious BIG once put it, “If you don’t know, now you know.” 

Brian Owens, SVP, Strategy, VMLY&R Commerce.


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