February is Black History Month in the USA. It is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of Black Americans that are often excluded from the history books. There are programs, articles, books, speeches and shows about the contributions of Blacks in science, medicine, technology, business, politics and many other fields.
To hear the industry tell it, Blacks don’t know about careers in advertising. And that would be okay if that it was true. However, it isn’t true. Blacks have been present in advertising for longer than many realize.
Many in the industry may not know their names but we all know their work.
Here is a short list of some Black advertising professionals from back in the day — and the significant contributions they’ve made to advertising.
Hired by Young and Rubicam in 1955, he may have been the first African American in advertising. In his first two years as a copywriter and composer at Y&R, he produced 75% of all the music for the agency.
He worked at CBS from 1945 to 1960 and supervised the creation of the graphic identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke. He designed the Clio Awards statuette, which he won 7 times for his art direction. He worked at both BBDO and McCann-Erickson.
Carol H. Williams
She gave us Secret deodorant’s tagline, “Strong Enough For a Man, But Made For a Woman” and the Pillsbury Doughboy’s giggle. Before becoming the owner of the largest independently-owned African American agency in the US, Carol H. Williams was the first female and African American creative director and VP at Leo Burnett. She also served as senior VP at FCB San Francisco.
Harry was the first art director for Motown. This Clio Hall of Fame member, while at Y&R, helped to create the United Negro College Fund’s “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste,” “Quality Is Job 1” for Ford and “Stuck on Band-Aid” for the iconic bandage brand.
She was the first African American hired as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in the early 1960’s. Her agency created KFC’s “We Do Chicken Right” tagline. She fought hard to prove that emotions sold better than features.
Before it was called “integrated marketing,” Byron Lewis called it advertising. He didn’t let limited access to media outlets keep him from helping his clients get their message out. He and his team created sponsored events for clients such as The Kraft Foods Black College Fair, the Acapulco Black Film Festival, and popularizing Men Who Cook programs before other agencies.
The first African American account executive at J. Walter Thompson. As VP, managing supervisor at McCann-Erickson, he was the driving force behind the introduction of Lite Beer from Miller, turning a $20,000 research program into a multi-million dollar brand. His presence in advertising is most strongly felt in his strong and successful advocating for the use of market segmentation.
This is far from a complete list. I am sure I have missed plenty of folks, and for that I apologize. Please feel free to add their names in the comments section. They deserve their moment in the sun.