He made a fortune and a difference showing the advertising world how to sell to African-Americans.
Now Tom Burrell has a new pitch: to reverse what he calls the longest-running ad campaign in history, and find the answer to some very troubling questions.
Burrell has a new website asking and answering some politically impolite questions like, "Why do we expect so little of each other and ourselves?" and "Why are black and beautiful still contradictions?"
He hopes stopthebrainwash.com can identify the answers to these questions, and instigate a change.
"The most powerful thing that was done to us is that we were taught to disrespect, distrust and dislike each other, and ourselves," Burrell said.
This Advertising Hall of Fame member calls the idea the longest-running propaganda campaign in history. It was started by a country that needed slavery to call itself profitable, and a clear conscience to call itself democratic.
“These are not human beings,” Burrell said, explaining the reasoning behind the campaign. “So if we can exempt them, get them out of the human picture, then we can say we have a democracy, all men are created equal.”
He is not the first person to say slavery is the root of African-American under-achievement. But as an ad-man, Burrell is looking for the campaign that came with the crime - the on-going promotion of what he calls the “myth of black inferiority.”
“We talk about education, we talk about parenting, and we're not talking about the big 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Burrell said, “that is the inundation, the bombardment of negative media messages that keep us in our place.”
Burrell called the brain washing was so successful that the victims have been recruited to the campaign.
“We get this notion that the lighter you are, the more European your features… the more beautiful and the more attractive and the more desirable you are,” Burrell said.
Music videos are easy to criticize. But Burrell says the myth is perpetuated everywhere.
“So the slave auction, what used to be the slave auction block is now the stage!” Burrell said. “We get on that stage, and we pull our own clothes off, we'll go up there without any, and we will grab our stuff and show it off and say this is what we are about, this is how we define ourselves.”
His website aims to keep people from buying it.
“Being aware of how this whole game works, how we are inundated every day with these cues, these signals, these symbols that tell us and reinforce this whole idea that we are ‘less than.’”
Burrell will have to prove that positive propaganda can make a profit. The chairman emeritus of the agency that practically invented target marketing thinks it can be done – that nothing else will work.
“Until we get to the root cause of our problem, which is how we have been conditioned to feel about ourselves, we're not going to be able to solve any of our problems.”
Burrell's solution is to push the profit of positive propaganda, and economic punishment for perpetuating the myth.