Say Pepsi, Please

I read an interesting story last month: "How Pepsi Opened Door to Diversity; A 1940s All-Black Team Targeted a New Market And Broke a Barrier" by Stephanie Capparell, in the Wall Street Journal: January 9, 2007. pg. B.1., adapted from her new book, The Real Pepsi Challenge: The Inspirational Story of Breaking the Color Barrier in American Business.

Here's the article abstract:

Their jobs turned most of the men into Pepsi fanatics. Said team member [Jean Emmons]: "All of my friends had to buy Pepsi. I kept stockpiles of Pepsi in my house. All the places I went had to have Pepsi. If I was out with someone and they ordered Coke, I might have thrown a glass of water in their face. . . . My wife would say, 'I think you're going crazy -- Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi!'"

He launched three major press campaigns from 1948 to 1951. For the first, he found accomplished African-Americans to profile for a "Leaders in Their Fields" series -- about 20 names in all. The campaign compared the professionals with Pepsi, a "Leader in Its Field." It began in April 1948 with United Nations diplomat Ralph Bunche. That series was complemented in the upstart Ebony magazine by a seven-ad series drawn by award-winning African-American cartoonist Jay Jackson, known for his biting satire of racists and red-baiters. For his third series, Mr. Boyd took a crew to the campuses of black universities to photograph top students enjoying Pepsi.

All the way, they continued to break down color barriers to their careers. Mr. Boyd proudly takes credit for helping open the door to diversity. "It was a contribution to social progress," said Mr. Boyd of his work at Pepsi. "I didn't make that much of a dollar. I wasn't paid on the basis of other executives. It was at the beginning."

However, as the article noted, it wasn't easy. Pepsi's decision to go after the black consumers, based on the assessment that they were missing out on a part of a $10 billion market, was done somewhat quietly, lest they offend some of their white Pepsi drinkers. The team of black employees hired to promote the beverage were not only paid less, but suffered not a few indignities.

If you're interested in reading the whole article, please let me know, and I will make it available to you.

Not so incidentally, the little boy in the graphic was the late Ron Brown, who would grow up to be Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton.

"PEPSI and PEPSI-COLA are registered trademarks of PepsiCo, Inc.", and used with permission.


Amelia Birdsall said…
NPR has a related story. An interview with the author and Edward Boyd, a leader of the all-black Pepsi marketing teams is available here.

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