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Thomas Burrell Lecture

Alexandra Basso
4/16/2013  8:00 am

Legendary advertising pioneer Thomas Burrell spoke on Thursday evening as part of a MillerComm Lecture Series at the Spurlock Museum in Urbana.

Burrell, the author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, shared insight into the mass media’s effect on African-American stereotypes.

The Chicago native received a B.A. in English from Roosevelt University, before working as the first African-American copywriter at Wade Advertising and later, Foote Cone & Belding.

With over forty years experience in the advertising industry, Burrell has worked tirelessly to understand African-American consumer behavior. 

“Black people are not dark-skinned white people,” said Burrell.

Rather, he went on to explain, they think, feel and act differently due to a unique history as a people in the United States. A distinctive perception that advertising needs to be tailored to the needs of the African-American community led to the success of the Burrell Communications Group, which was founded by Burrell in 1971. Its clients include McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. The agency is currently the nation's largest African American-owned marketing firm.

His journey to further understand black identity in the United States eventually led him to Howard University’s Media Messaging Research Fellowship Program. As a supplement to his findings, Burrell showed several instances of the mass media reinforcing black stereotypes. These examples included everything from mainstream television shows to box-office hits.

Speaking about the notion of black inferiority in the mass media, Burrell said, “You can be different but equal.”

The lecture was hosted by the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising, in conjunction with the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Business Administration, the Department of Communication and the Spurlock Museum. 

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