Angels and Kings and Bears, oh my! Is racial profiling black sheep version of target marketing?

November 3, 2010


Angels & Kings. So nice and white.

Last week a group of Chicago Bears were denied entry into the Angels & Kings nightclub in Chicago. Apparently, they were told the club was already being leased for the night and that they were not welcome.

You know where this is going.

By next morning it was all over the Internet and in the press. The primary question was did the club deny entrance to the group because it was comprised of mostly black men? The fact that these guys were famous athletes made the story even more provocative. You’d think they’d want celebrities in the club.

In fairness to Angels & Kings, which is partially owned by Pete Wentz of Fallout Boy (ugh!), another entity was leasing the club that night. In addition, not all the players denied entry were black. And, finally, according to eyewitness accounts, several rejected Bears didn’t seem to give a shit. They would take their copious wads of money (arguably undeserved this year) to some other overrated club in Chicago’s touristy River North district, which is exactly what they did.

Still, the accusations of racial profiling by the club came fast and furious. Sorry, Mr. Wentz, but the “fallout” was brutal. Actually, it’s still going on. Inquiries are being made. The usual denials, rebuttals and arguments…

Why am I writing about racial profiling? Because not only is it disturbing and fascinating but to me it feels awfully similar to target marketing. An advertiser (Angels & Kings) targets a specific group (white men and women) to embrace his brand (upscale & hip), forsaking all others (blacks and other minorities). In fact, one could argue that maintaining the brand’s equity actually requires the brand manager to forsake all others.

Calm down. I’m not a hater; I’m just turning around an argument and framing it in the context of marketing.

But take this truth and suck on it: racial profiling occurs in every club with a gated entrance, bouncer, and cover charge. That’s what the rope is for: Keeping. People. Out.

I’ve spoken to several influential club owners in this town and they all freely admit to racially profiling customers. Furthermore, they claim it’s standard operating procedure. One told me his business wouldn’t succeed if it operated more democratically. How do they get away with it? The easiest trick is invoking a dress code. If an owner doesn’t want you in his club he needs only to find something inappropriate about your wardrobe. This happens all the time. Is it a racist agenda or is the proprietor just trying to protect his brand?

And it’s not just African-Americans getting “blacklisted.”

Recently, a popular club in Chicago’s so-called Viagra triangle became “overrun” with young Indians. According to the owner they were an invasive species, crowding out the regular customers. Via arbitrary dress codes and made up private parties, the bar’s owner began turning them away in droves. It worked. The “locusts” moved on to another field. His words not mine.

What do you think? Does a brand have a right to choose its customers? What about the age-old practice of charging men a cover but not women? Is that prejudiced? If so, where’s the uproar? Before answering any of these questions, ask yourself what you would do if, for example, you owned a club and your regular customers stopped coming in because another group was. Maybe you’re not so liberal in your own back yard.

3 Responses to “Angels and Kings and Bears, oh my! Is racial profiling black sheep version of target marketing?”

  1. Racial profiling is a very real barrier for some ethnic minorities. Manner of dress and perceived income goes along with racial profiling in many contexts of opinions and constructs on the subject. I have experienced it in my diverse neighborhood of Logan Square although I have the largest and most expensive home on my street. Maybe the ignorant gawkers are simply disturbed because I am a black woman married to a white man, but I have felt out of place in certain situations. Clubs which are not private should allow anyone in the door until the capacity is met. However, I know that does not happen. Pretty people seem to walk through the doors before others. I haven’t gone to a nightclub in a many years; however, I don’t think the Angels and Kings club incident was racial profiling unless a white or preferred race was allowed to enter afterwards. As far as the clubs owner who believed his club was overrun with indians – that is a clear case of racial profiling. I wonder if the club owner would prefer to not make any money instead of letting certain people in the door. Let’s face it. In America, white people have an advantage that has been around since the formation of the country. Black people have a disadvantage that predates slavery. I don’t have a magic answer to end it, but I do believe in treating others the way I’d wish to be treated. Some people feel that associating with black people will rub off black skin and they’ll be identified with black Americans. As far as advertising goes, it has always bothered me that some ads negatively target black people. Every black person does not enjoy hip-hop and “gangsta” rap. Dennis Haybert in the Allstate ads has been an exception as I haven’t seen many blacks as spokepersons unless they were athletes. I could go on and on with this topic and still not come up with a clear answer or response. Racial profiling seems to be an “acceptable” way to keep certain people separate from others. Look just like the old segregation system to me. The why is far to complicated to simply describe.

  2. SRP said

    CLB-
    I was counting on you writing in.
    Your later point about advertising to African Americans via black stereotypes is something I’ve written about before. Thank you!
    -Steffan

  3. Teresa Jay said

    Racial profiling to protect a brand? I wasn’t going to comment on this one Steffan. It’s tough when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable just now. I’ve lived here for just under three years. I hate walking around in a place that I am trying to make my home wondering if everything I do is filtered or ignored through a ‘profile’. This is tough.

    Years ago, at the false start of my career, I interviewed with Campbell-Ewald in Detroit, before it merged with Esty. Over two dozen interviews in which most of the questions were about what I thought black people wanted in an automobile. I didn’t know what to say to that. “The same thing any other market segments want in a car. It varies. Most want responsive handling, to go fast, as fast as possible, and to stop before we run over somebody.” I got a lot of laughs but I didn’t get the gig. Not due to my answers, but because Sean Fitzpatrick stood me up three times. Then the merger with Esty happened and too bad.

    I’m an advertising professional, not a police officer. I quickly learned to ignore the implicit ‘profiling’ in order to even get through all of those interviews with a smile and the positive attitude that is so important to a career in advertising. I’ve been ignoring it for most of my career. Ignoring it on the outside doesn’t change the fact that ‘profiling’ has negatively affected and maybe continues to affect so much of what I do. Racial profiling is seriously damaging because it limits life options—not just party options.

    As CLB mentions above, I don’t think the Angels and Kings club incident was racial profiling. To turn people away because they look like they don’t have the money, or are too drunk or obnoxious already is one thing—or even because they’ve been there before and you suspect they’ll run the waitstaff around all night for small tips. I can even buy the notion of allowing the super-model people to the front of the line because for the people lined up, that is the attraction. I’m over it, so when I see that line I keep going. However, to use race as a reason to deny access is and should be a crime. Not a brand strategy.

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