No 192: The world’s first ‘black’ ad agency

Campaign UK - - PROMOTION -

Ad­ver­tis­ing cre­ated by and for eth­nic mi­nori­ties has sharply con­trast­ing his­to­ries on ei­ther side of the At­lantic.

In the UK, black-owned agen­cies never gained mo­men­tum. The hand­ful of shops that took their chance in the late 1980s never man­aged to get be­yond niche briefs – mostly for hair­care and cos­metic prod­ucts tar­get­ing the Afro-caribbean com­mu­nity – and into main­stream brands.

At the same time, ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers were re­luc­tant to specif­i­cally tar­get mi­nor­ity groups for fear of los­ing their broader ap­peal.

In the US, it was a dif­fer­ent story. Widely re­garded as the first black­owned full-ser­vice agency, Vince Cullers Ad­ver­tis­ing was set up in Chicago as long ago as 1956.

How­ever, the agency was less the prod­uct of an en­light­ened so­ci­ety and more the re­sult of the frus­tra­tion and prej­u­dice en­coun­tered by its epony­mous founder.

De­spite be­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced and tal­ented art di­rec­tor at

Ebony mag­a­zine, Cullers be­came so em­bit­tered about not be­ing able to land a job in a white-dom­i­nated ad in­dus­try that he launched his own agency.

It proved to be a ground­breaker. Not only did it con­vince mar­keters of the need to craft cam­paigns specif­i­cally for eth­nic-mi­nor­ity mar­kets, but Cullers him­self men­tored many of his African-amer­i­can staff who were new to the in­dus­try.

By 1968, the agency had landed its first ma­jor con­tract, from to­bacco man­u­fac­turer Lo­ril­lard, and went on to win as­sign­ments from Amoco, Kel­logg, Pizza Hut and Sears. By 1972, there were 25 “black” agen­cies in the US.

Agen­cies such as Bur­rell Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Uni­world Group un­doubt­edly owe their suc­cess to Cullers’ vi­sion.

As Bur­rell founder Tom Bur­rell ac­knowl­edged: “It all started with Vince Cullers and we should not for­get that.”

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