Black Audiences Want Better Representation

Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs perform at the Grammys

All those recent initiatives toward diversity and inclusion haven’t changed the perception among Black audiences: They still don’t see themselves well represented. Charlene Polite Corley, vice president of diverse insights and partnerships at Nielsen and co-author of the new research, tells Marketing Daily what marketers, programmers and content producers can do better.

Marketing Daily: What surprised me most in your research is how much media Black audiences consume -- more than 81 hours per week with media, about 32% more than the general population. Yet 67% wish they saw more representation. Is that a disconnect? Why do they watch so much if they’re unhappy with what they see?

Charlene Polite Corley: Content is key to the culture. Media plays a big part in how we interact and move throughout the day. For Black audiences, media is just a part of the everyday habit. That doesn't mean content  couldn’t be better.



What surprised me was how these findings reinforced the global demand for centering Black stories. We’ve done a lot of focused research on this, and to see such alignment -- even more so -- in markets outside of the U.S. was a surprise. Knowing there’s a global opportunity for more nuanced stories is nice.

Marketing Daily: What don’t Black viewers like?

Corley: Often, they say they’ve watched 10 programs, and every one had, more or less, the same Black character. Because they consume so much media, Black Americans are uniquely positioned to say, "Here's what I'd like to see done differently."

Marketing Daily: You’ve been tracking this for a long time. Is there anything in this new data set that is discouraging?

Corley: That things haven't moved. Within Black America, eight out of 10 people say they feel misrepresented. Among Black queer folks, it’s seven out of 10. So it is discouraging that we still don't have it right. That’s an opportunity for the media industry to do better.

Marketing Daily: I bet programmers and marketers will be surprised by those numbers. There is a perception within the programming universe that they’re doing more diverse work than they have ever done. They point to shows like "Reservation Dogs," "Bridgerton" and "Insecure."

Corley: Yes, there are some great shows. But there are a lot of perspectives that have gone untold. It's not just about getting the historical record right or telling the authentic story. It's also about the aspirational piece. Media can be a very magical place. So it's about the aspirational stories, including fantasy and sci-fi.

Quality of representation and context matters as much as quantity. The next step is for creators to ask: Are we doing more of the same? Or are we giving audiences what they'd like to see more of?

Marketing Daily: Do you have a favorite?

Corley: I have two young kids, so there's a lot of “Sesame Street” in my house. Also, “Abbott Elementary.” It proves another finding from our work: centering a show on the experience of Black characters doesn't isolate other audiences from coming along for the ride. And there are three Black women with very different characters.

Marketing Daily: Back to your global point. The African-born U.S. population has tripled in the past 20 years, and the number of Black immigrants from Africa closely mirrors the number coming from the Caribbean. By 2026, 16% of the Black American population will have been born outside the U.S. What do you wish marketers could understand about this growing audience?

Corley: That language is so important, with 16% of Black Americans speaking a language other than English at home. And even in English, slang is essential, and something that works in Houston might not fly in Baltimore. I would love to see more brands bring nuance to their segmentation and language. For me, that's the magic -- when a great ad zooms in on a unique experience but then still connects folks. We saw so many great moments of that in the Super Bowl.

Marketing Daily: Such as?

Corley: Speaking as an elder millennial, Usher sang every song from my youth. I loved the ad about the NFL in Africa. Connecting America's Big Game to global population drivers is so well-done and smart. Africa has the youngest population on earth. It isn’t just part of a DEI strategy. It’s part of the NFL’s growth strategy. And then, of course,  there was Beyoncé  and Verizon.

Marketing Daily: Overnight, TikTok and Instagram are overflowing with people two-stepping to “Texas Hold ‘Em”! Talk about pushing past urban stereotypes.

Corley: I know! I'm so excited for Black rodeo to take center stage, with  Beyoncé  reclaiming country music with roots starting in Black America. Her ability to be genre-bending is such a reflection of the diversity that exists in the community. It’s also a good lesson in media on how to move forward.

Marketing Daily: What are the implications for social media?

Corley: For 51% of the white Gen Z respondents in our study, it’s important for them to follow a Black creator. They recognize that’s where a lot of trendsetting happens.

Marketing Daily: Speaking of musical influencers, I feel like someone could draw a beautiful arc between the Grammys, with Tracy Chapman’s recent performance, Jay Z’s calling out snubs of Black artists, cutting away to Beyoncé  in an "OMG, why is she wearing a cowboy hat?" to the Super Bowl ad and then the announcement about a new country album.

Corley: I love that Chapman had that moment in the spotlight, with Luke Combs honoring her that way. And I love seeing all the younger folks get an education about who she is and how powerful she is. Then, Jay Z’s speech shows there's still progress to be made. I’m excited to see what kind of representation will show up at the Oscars.

Next story loading loading..