My article for the Kogod School of Business
Marketing and culture influence each other in highly sophisticated ways: marketing is shaped and, in turn, shapes culture. Companies court specific customer groups, and often, progressive ideas take a backseat to profit. While it is no secret that the advertising industry has a sticky (or sticker!) problem with race, it is the marketplace writ large that is the topic of conversation in Professor Sonya Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course at the Kogod School of Business.
The class is centered on the theme that race plays a key role in the functioning of consumption markets worldwide. The course also closely examines how institutionalized racism and structural inequalities shape marketing practice, consumer behavior, and marketplace outcomes. Finally, the course content asks students to reflect on how marketing can be used to support more racially equitable marketplaces.
The class is a first of its kind nationally and a great draw in Kogod because of its very salient, real-world orientation. “This is one of the only classes where I felt that we applied realistic concepts every week. I came out of each class with a new concrete way to look at race in the marketplace,” said Kogod senior Yves-Myriam Millien. Kogod student Paige Kaiser remarked similarly on the uniqueness of Professor Grier’s class.
“This class has been eye-opening. There’s no other class like it at AU. Learning about my marketing specialization through the lens of critical race issues widened my perspective on the intersection of race and the marketplace today. It taught me skills about navigating these relations that will be valuable in my future career.”
Students in the class were surprised that they had never been exposed to the issues before. “Race is such a critical part of marketing, and I was shocked when I didn’t encounter it more in my earlier marketing coursework. It felt natural to have a class on it,” remarked Millien.
Grier has coedited a free textbook for the class titled Race in the Marketplace: Crossing Critical Boundaries, which is the first of its kind to explore the topic. Students come away learning how group-level targeting can exploit marginalized communities. They learn about the impact of racial disparities in labor markets, wealth accumulation, economic mobility, and public health. For example, a case study entitled Alisha in Obesity Land explores ways of encouraging elementary school students to consume healthier foods.
The class also teaches students to recognize racially-targeted ads more often in the world and to be more critical of the messages they promote and how they may perpetuate racial or cultural stereotypes.
“I learned how to critique business practices and be confident in that critique—how to have the vocabulary and understand the reality of what kind of change we could ask for from businesses.”
“The Race in the Marketplace course taught students about marketers’ role in combating inequitable effects in the marketplace on marginalized groups,” said Kaiser.
“This class has taught me about the reality of how companies can be incentivized to change, as well as different strategies to make businesses more inclusive,” added Hayes.
“Now more than ever, the industry is moving towards increased corporate social responsibility and recognizing the role marketers play in promoting equity in the marketplace. This class prepares students for just that,” said Kaiser. “By providing a foundation of racialization implications in the marketplace and discussing tools and tactics to combat them, students will leave Professor Grier’s class with a better understanding of how to promote equitable business practices and why it is their responsibility to do so.”
At the Kogod School of Business, our students use their education to create meaningful change in the world. Professor Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course is an absolute must-take for all looking to contribute to a more equitable market.