Knowing your audience...seriously

I earlier introduced you guys to the "racist" KFC ad and the implications of culture on the perception of this commercial. I mentioned that you really have to know your audience and understand their views, their backgrounds, their opinions or else what you communicate can escalate into controversy. The KFC ad, while a non-issue in Australia, only became an issue when it landed on the doorstep of US executives and became viral on Youtube, ultimately reaching those who WOULD take issue with the fried chicken implications.

Well, here is another example of not taking the time to understand your audience or maybe not caring about the audience. I would hate to think that they did not care about the audience but even from where I sit in the Caribbean, the implications of this were clear and I knew it would be a sore point among the members of the target group.

Essence February 2010 cover

Now, I see a good looking black man with a bangin' body. Reggie Bush, NFL star. What another woman, and in this case, thousands of black, single American and perhaps non-American women saw, is another black celebrity who is not settling down with a "sista" but instead is publicly dating a non-black woman. What makes it worse is that the issue is themed "Black Love" and for a good segment of the target audience, black love does not include the likes of Reggie Bush and his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.

There have been a lot of comments, some indifferent but a lot, angry, from women who just are not amused by Essence's apparent lack of judgement in putting Reggie Bush on the cover of a magazine, targeted to black women, who on some counts, are tired of what they describe as the cliche successful, eligible black bachelor who settle down with everything that they are not.

Is it hard to imagine why seeing her man on the cover of Essence was not a feel good moment for many of us?

While Reggie Bush would be no more available to us were he married to a Black neurosurgeon, there's just something that doesn't feel right about seeing him on the cover of a magazine for Black women. The fact that it is the February issue and the words "Black Love" appear on the cover make the whole thing even more messy. With all the information we are getting these days about The Single Black Woman Crisis, I don't really want to see a brother who has removed himself from the single Black woman dating pool with (of all people) Kim Kardashian....

...I look to Essence to feel affirmed and inspired. The world outside is doing a fine job at telling me that Black women are not always 'in vogue'. And while I expect Essence to print stories that do call my attention to the more painful aspects of Black female life, I'd rather the men we drool over in between the pages of Essence could at least be the men who are more likely to lust after us back. Even if it's just a fantasy.
(read full blog entry here)

Other comments include (the last one is particularly scathing):
  • When she told me that Reggie was going to be on the cover, I incredulously asked why him? I thought then and still do; it was a bad idea to put Reggie on the cover because all it would do was create unnecessary drama since he has no relevance to black women.
  • If it was just this cover with Reggie on it, I could let that go, but, what I can't let go of, is the continuing decline of Essence itself and the contempt it holds for me, it's reader.
  • I am in a mixed marriage myself and my hubby concurs. I am not an angry black women. I am just one who is disappointed in what Essence chose to display as a Pillar for Black Love. If they were doing an issuse on interracial dating, I could surely understand but not for the subject of Black Love.
  • Why is there a white supremacist on the cover of Essence magazine? Because any person who thinks white women are better is indeed a white supremacist. Having this man on the cover is beyond offensive to me as an African American woman. He is just another crude reminder of all the black men who perpetuate racism against black women, by rejecting them and showing the utmost disrespect by choosing to date non-black women.
(read more comments from Essence readers here.)

Essence's readership has been dwindling in recent times and I am sure this cover will not be boosting their popularity any time soon. It's a beautiful cover of a beautiful looking man, but behind the man there is a story, one which you may or may not agree with or support. Though his photo was used as part of a Top 10 hottest black celebs spread in the magazine, his association with a non-black woman was clearly the overriding factor. Whether or not you agree with his choice of girlfriend is not the question. The question is does his back story support the theme of the February issue and is he the ideal person to have gracing the cover when in the past, and therein lies the rub, your readership has not fully embraced what he represents? In fact, your readership has time and again not been appreciative of black men who date non-black women. So it is not about him and his right to date who he wants, or about how interracial dating is not a big deal. A publication, trying to make money off a segment this angry about it, should probably tread carefully. It is a tenuous issue and some readers have demanded Essence make an apology. I doubt they will.

The question was raised, what if it were Halle Berry on the cover. She's dating a white model and is raising a daughter with him. But is your mostly FEMALE readership angry at Halle Berry, a woman?

I, however, don't really care who the man is dating. I just happen to enjoy the eye candy early in the morning.


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