"Pepsi Challenge": Black Consumer Respect

Long before the sit-ins and the marches, Ed Boyd and his team of African-American ad men were leading a revolution. The story is told in a new book, "The Real Pepsi Challenge" by Stephanie Capparell. CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports.

"We were breaking new ground," Boyd says.

It was 1947 — a time when black Americans were often seen as servants or caricatures, not consumers. Walter Mack, then head of Pepsi, was the first corporate leader to see potential in the so-called "negro market" — a market with a spending power of $10 billion.

"I'm amazed because there is great acceptance of our money now, and there's a play for it," Boyd says.

It was Boyd — now 92 — who got the ball rolling. He put together an unprecedented sales team. They were all black, and some had Harvard degrees.

They created an ad campaign showing average black Americans drinking Pepsi featuring posters like the one of a kid from Boyd's neighborhood named Ron Brown — a boy who would grow up to become America's first black Secretary of Commerce.

"When people walked in and saw that little black boy, what happened?" Miller asks.

"Well, they turned around and looked at him again," Boyd says. "And he influenced sales undoubtedly."

To make those sales, Boyd's team had to travel to small towns in the racist South. He can still taste the bitter moments.

"We were working largely in an area of the country where there was rank discrimination and segregation, and I didn't think in my lifetime it would be overcome," Boyd says.

The campaign worked. A Pepsi generation was born, and other marketers started to copy the techniques developed by Boyd and his team.

Today African-Americans spend $683 billon a year on consumer goods. And they're not just buying, they're also selling—appearing in ads to endorse all kinds of products.

"We've come a long way, baby, to get where we got to today," Boyd says.
  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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