Three-Fifths Brown

April 14, 2009 in Branding, Facebook, Movies, Race

Never in a million years did I think I would end up working in Advertising.


The idea first popped up when I stumbled upon and applied for WK12, Wieden+Kennedy’s “experimental” internship program. I didn’t get in.

That was back in ’04, and I should’ve realized the match earlier, because I was obsessed with commercials and billboards as a kid. The socioeconomic delta between my neighborhood and my friends’ cranked up the contrast on the beer and luxury car dominated, predatory campaigns.

Wearing the heads down on my VCR with repeated rewinding of commercials, it didn’t take me long to identify what, in my head, I call the “Majority of Minorites” rule:

Unless attempting to market specifically to a minority, fewer than half of the members of any marketing piece will belong to said minority.


So…I started writing this post about Next Day Air (can’t wait to see it) and The Matrix: Revolutions being extremely rare exceptions to the rule, but I’m calling an audible because I just remembered something.

A few days ago @hyams posted a tweet about a gay couple in a commercial. I just took the time to track it down and it’s terribly interesting.

Granted, this commercial isn’t an exception to the Majority rule, but its rampant ambiguity is fascinating. Is the “couple” gay? Are they targeting the Gay community? Is the rainbow pattern on his shirt a clue? Is never seeing a clear shot of either man’s ring finger on their left hand a coincidence?

Does the rule apply if you’re not sure if the subjects are members?

Have a look for yourself, and be sure to check out the conversation on YouTube and Twitter as well.

6 Comments to Three-Fifths Brown

  1. Could you unpack your rule a bit for a non-advertising person? What does the term “members of a piece” mean in this context? Does it mean persons in a given ad product? Thanks.

  2. John Lynch on 14 April 2009
  3. Yeah, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. I’ll tweak that wording…

  4. Mark Phillip on 16 April 2009
  5. Where do you think the early-2000s DDB/Charles Stone III “True” (a/k/a “Whassup?”) Budweiser commercials fit into the rule? Are they an exception because it had quick mass-market appeal by Anheuser-Busch or would you argue that it had been specifically marketing to the segment and the mass-market crossover was an accident? I see arguments both ways.

    On one hand, some of A-B’s work (particularly at the time) is arguably described by the “beer . . . dominated, predatory campaigns” you describe above. A-B is certainly no stranger to designing campaigns to specific minority markets.

    On the other, the campaign seemed to me to be fairly mass-market, with a rollout during the NFL playoffs leading up to a Super Bowl spot and then follow-up through the spring basketball season. The buys seemed to go more to the “young drinkers” market that Bud typically aims for rather than a specific minority market. Of course, the campaign did have a intense (albeit brief) crossover appeal in practice. Also, while I think any firm as big as DDB can do targeted marketing, their prime client base seems to be primarily companies in mass-market appeal.

    So I’d tend to put it as an exception, on balance, but was wondering what you thought.

  6. John Lynch on 16 April 2009
  7. Grr! Why isn’t WordPress telling me when I get comments?

    The “Whassup?” spot is a fantastic exception to the rule. I was in college at the time and I can’t think of any campaign that spawned a crossover catch-phrase as pervasive as that one was.

    I’d actually say it’s neither of the options you suggested. I don’t think they were targeting minorities, and I don’t think it was purely A-B’s reach that made it cross over.

    In my head, it worked _because_ it was an exception to the rule. There was a perceived authenticity to the spot that gave it legs. They actually highlighted that perception with their Yuppie “What are you doing?” spots.

    I think any campaign that uses race (or any other minority) as a crutch when trying to appeal to the mass-market needs to tread rightly. Whassup? was a classic of a campaign, but it’s an extremely fine line.

    What is funny in some spaces (, can leave you open to criticism in others (

  8. Mark Phillip on 18 April 2009
  9. Very insightful. Thanks!

  10. John Lynch on 18 April 2009
  11. I’m just psyched you guys are reading! :)

  12. Mark Phillip on 18 April 2009

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