Who Cares About a Non Urban Dictate (NUD) Anyway?

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I just recently got an interesting e-mail "update" from a college buddy of mine. He's a politically active, very astute, college-educated black man, much like myself. (Well, at least I like to think I'm astute, and well, I don't really care about national politics, but enough about me.) Anyway, the e-mail he sent looked, in part, something like this:

NUD (Non Urban Dictate) is the acronym for a very subtle and little-known marketing term specifically directed toward people of color. “Non Urban Dictate” These three words essentially mean that a company is not interested in the Black consumer. A NUD label means that a company does not want their marketing and advertising materials placed in media that claim an urban audience (black folks) as their main target. There are legitimate reasons for companies not using urban radio. It may be that Blacks don’t index high in certain categories or that a company’s strategy is to market to the Black consumer down the road after they have established a strong position in their primary target.

But, NUD usually means that a company is not interested in the Black consumer. Companies evade discrimination liability by embracing it as theory rather than policy. As a service to Black consumers, the Urban Institute will list all companies that have a NUD policy. Armed with this information, we feel that Black consumers will be able to make informed buying decisions.

Here’s a list of Companies with NUD policies:

  1. Starbucks
  2. Jos. A Bank
  3. Comp USA
  4. Weight Watchers
  5. Keebler
  6. Life Savers
  7. Continental Airlines
  8. Northwest Airlines
  9. America West Airlines
  10. HBO — Apollo Series
  11. Paternal Importers
  12. Calico Corners
  13. OMScot
  14. Pepperidge Farms
  15. Ethan Allen
  16. Busy Body Fitness
  17. Mondavi Wines
  18. Builders Square
  19. Don Pablo
  20. Lexus
  21. Aruba Tourism
  22. Ciba Vision
  23. Kindercare
  24. Grady Restaurant
  25. Eddie Bauer

Please forward this information on to any other consumer that you consider a friend and advise them to do likewise.

Remember, you CANNOT act wisely unless you are informed wisely.

The Urban Institute
2100 M Street, N.W.
Washington, DC.

As call-to-action pieces go, this one is pretty standard. I've received a bunch of similar pleas over the years and generally, I now just delete them. (Full disclosure: There was a time when I would have followed the instructions, and forwarded this to everyone in my address book.) Maybe my disgust with ever falling prey to the errors of logic in stuff like this is what leads me to write about it here. Who knows?

First off, let me clear up the easy stuff. One, the Urban Institute did not produce this message, nor do they manage a list of firms that are supposedly using a Non Urban Dictate. Two, the list of companies mentioned is out-dated, just barely avoiding being completely false. Those two facts however, which by themselves would suggest that I could just dismiss this message, are not what I wish to analyze. The economic logic expressed by these types of calls-to-action is flawed. For such a short note to include so many logical fallacies is actually pretty amazing. As best I can tell, we've got, just to name a few, package dealing, question-begging, and a healthy does of false choice as well. Quoting Darth Vader from when he battled Luke Skywalker, "Impressive!"

My Response

I responded directly to my buddy with the text off-set below. (I haven't yet mentioned the first two facts above, regarding the incorrect attribution and the out-dated list. I'll do that later.) For now, I'll expand on each paragraph, just for the sake of completeness.

So let me get this straight. If a company doesn't market directly to me, ostensibly by using black radio, but I like their product anyway, I shouldn't buy it? Or is it that I should buy it but let them know they should market directly to me via black radio? Or is it that I shouldn't buy it and I should tell them to market directly to me via black radio, and afterward I would buy it?

What, exactly, is the goal here? Should I be incensed because the owners of urban radio stations, who themselves might very well not be black, are not getting enough business from these particular firms? Who cares? More importantly, why should I specifically care?

I went on:

Not for nothing, but it seems to me that by highlighting these companies, this Urban Institute — apparently not that versed in marketing — is actually marketing for these companies. It would further seem to me that if I’ve heard of, or buy from, or <gasp> enjoy the products from a company that doesn’t use “black radio” then their decision to not market via black radio was a good one. Ain’t that ironic?

The irony here is palpable. Picture if you will a black upwardly-mobile professional, an erstwhile BUPPIE. He's holding a fresh Starbucks coffee in his hand as he drives his Lexus to work. He's wearing a stylish sweater he got from Eddie Bauer. Later tonight, he and his wife are planning to celebrate her recent weight loss — accomplished with the help of Weight Watchers — with a nice bottle of Modavi wine, assuming such a thing exists. (I'm certainly no wine snob, but hey, I'm just thinking out loud here.)

Is he a sell-out? Of course not. Actually, the NUD, if that is what the firms in question have used, has proved, beyond all doubt, to have been the appropriate action to take. He's using their products and he didn't hear about them while listening to black radio. By the way, what the hell is "black radio" anyway? (Maybe that's a different essay.)

I concluded my note to my buddy thusly:

Now, I know black radio would prefer that I only get my news and marketing from them, but that’s a separate issue, and their use of my buying habits to back into the fact that they want more people to use them is a rather disingenuous use of the race card.

…expected, but disingenuous.

(Further, it is *not* necessarily true that a company that has a NUD doesn’t want black dollars. In fact, I bet all companies want all dollars. I just bet they want them for as little outlay of marketing dollars as possible.)

Little more need be said, well, except for the following.

Conclusion

This message in this chain letter is, plain and simple, an instance of playing — or maybe preying — on the supposed collectivism of the black race, ostensibly for our benefit, while actually helping radio stations, many of which are not owned by black people, to use "racial pride" as a marketing ploy. It is distasteful, presumptuous, insulting, and trite. Of course, the information in the message above is also largely false, but the economics is what really distressed me the most.

For reference, I did a little more checking. According to the website, African American Registry, "as late as 1990, 206 of approximately 600 black-oriented stations were owned by African-Americans." That's a percentage of less than 35%, so even if I were interested in benefiting specific people by forcing businesses to advertise through them, this particular initiative is rather suspect.

Just for yucks, I ran this situation by fellow LRC columnist, and fellow black libertarian Robert Wicks. He said, among other things, "How are we (normal, non-radio station-owning black folk) damaged by them (supposed NUD companies) not advertising on black radio, exactly? I wonder if Starbucks does much on country music stations."

That's a damned-good question. Either way, if you buy their coffee, that's all they were after anyway, as it should be.

For someone to suggest that I, a non-radio-station owner, should somehow help a radio station owner obtain more advertising business simply because that station supposedly appeals to an "urban" clientele, is about as bold-faced a use of the race card — combined with rather typical collectivist logic — as I've seen in a while. Given that this is election time, that's really saying something.

Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.

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