How and Why Black Outrage is Profitable

2020, at large, has been a deplorable year all around the world (to say the least). I don’t know what’s worse: the simple fact that 2020 has been awful or the fact that it’s been so awful. I can’t remember what happened in 2019, which before this year, seemed like the worst one we’d ever have! And each day in America it seems that things will worsen before they improve. After all, the number of COVID cases continues to rise in the country for a number of reasons. If that isn’t enough, the shortage of household necessities have begun again in grocery stores across the US due to people unnecessarily purchasing large quantities of items like toilet paper for example—which only makes it harder for others to buy what they need as stores start price gouging as well. For those who don’t know, price gouging is when retailers take advantage of a high spike in demand for a particular product by raising the prices too high. It’s illegal in the state of California currently and other states have their own set of regulations for addressing this problem. Dealing with COVID alone has been hard enough, we shouldn’t also have to worry about businesses and corporations exploiting a global pandemic. Not to mention that we’ve seen a public resurgence of #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName protests in the media as Black Americans continue to oppose state-sanctioned violence and police brutality, the 2020 Presidential Election was stressful in more ways than one, people are broke and school isn’t any easier. To round off an already [expletive] year, outrage marketing—specifically black outrage marketing - has reared its ugly head across social media, news and television in fashion, music, beauty and many other industries. 

2 people watching something (woman with remote) Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels Outrage marketing, or shock advertising as it’s more commonly known, isn’t necessarily a “new” marketing method. It is however, increasingly popular throughout the past few years and has been widely used this year during the pandemic. So what is it? To put it simply, outrage marketing uses graphic advertisements to disrupt social norms and personal ideas/beliefs/values for the purpose of pushing an agenda, disseminating information about an issue or just to sell something to consumers. TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these images may be disturbing. Popular examples include the 2007 China ad for Sisley, this 2008 Hanes ad that ran in India, and this 2007 Tom Ford fragrance ad among many others. Outrage marketing, in my opinion, is problematic as it is—although I acknowledge that public responses aren’t always negative and can in some cases do some good to facilitate conversations on social change—but black outrage marketing just doesn’t sit right with me as a Black womxn. Black outrage marketing is specific and callous as it’s usually calculated with the expectation that it’ll piss black people (especially black womxn) off and stir up public attention. Remember, “any press is good press” in business and entertainment industries. This specific niche of marketing is bothersome because it typically draws on culturally sensitive topics like colorism and police brutality against Black people in order to essentially make a profit or bring attention to their brand and/or product. For example, back in 2018 the popular brand H&M faced a lot of backlash for releasing an ad that featured a darkskin black child modeling one of their hoodies that read, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”. For obvious reasons, this upset a lot of people (myself included). It’s no secret that there is a long racist history of associating Black people with primates as a way to both shame our natural features (i.e. to make us how we look so that we can uphold Eurocentric features as the standard of beauty and purity)but to also further dehumanize as  “creatures”. In other words, it’s just another form of racist symbolism that’s been perpetually culturally embedded into the moral fabric of this country. Now before you go discrediting my opinion, yes I am aware that the mother of that child model spoke out in defense of the ad in which she basically told everyone to “get over it”; if anything that just proves my point about how capitalism exploits black trauma for profit. By telling an entire diaspora of people—whom have never received formal reparations as some form of remorse from the government nor have ever recovered from the significant impact of chattel slavery (which encapsulates the foundation of many systemic oppression policies and regulations heavily prevalent in the US)—is a major slap in the face. To undermine how Black consumers (rightfully) felt for the sake of a check is frankly apologist and dismissive. Similarly, a couple sold (ugly and expensive) jewelry named after the victims of police brutality using glass from #BLM protest sites. The site has since been shut down but again, this is just another example of how little respect the Black community receives from the outside world despite our contributions to society. It can even be argued that these contributions are felt equally, both nationally and abroad. However, that is not to say that other non-white/non European cultures haven’t impacted societies as well. This just means that we, the Black diaspora, don’t get the accolades we deserve and rather, are faced with daily violence, discrimination and perpetual subjugation

crowd of protesters holding Black Lives Matter signs Photo by Life Matters from Pexels So the next time you encounter a racially insensitive form of media, consider what makes the ad/image insensitive, report anything that spreads hate speech and imagery, and block the advertiser. It’s my hope that by drawing attention to this common marketing strategy, people who were unknokwelage before can now be able to identify these methods and be conscious consumers. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Black outrage advertising and the exploitation of Black culture/Blackness overall, you can check out this article and/or this video (btw subscribe to Amanda’s channel. She’s one of my favorites!)