From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Edward Boyd served as a marketing executive with beverage maker Pepsi-Cola and created the first national advertising campaigns aimed at African-American consumers. His tenure at the company was short, but historic. "By offering black America more respect and attention than any major corporation had before," wrote Jocelyn Y. Stewart in the Los Angeles Times, "Boyd and his team achieved their goal of driving up Pepsi's sales, pioneered what is now known as niche or target marketing, and helped break the color barrier in corporate America."
Boyd was born in 1914 in Riverside, California, where he grew up in a family of four children. His father was a barber, originally from Toledo, Ohio, while his mother, Emma Barrett Boyd, was descended from one of the few thousand blacks who came to California during the gold rush of the late 1840s. As a teenager, Boyd was a talented singer and harbored an ambition to become an opera star. After graduating from Riverside High School in 1932, he trained for a time with a local opera company, but eventually entered the University of California at Los Angeles with the hope of a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. The diplomatic service, however, was virtually closed to African Americans at the time, and after graduating in 1938 Boyd tried his luck in Hollywood. His roles were few, and he quickly tired of being typecast in the limited parts that studios were then offering to African Americans.
Boyd found a job with his union, the Screen Actors Guild, and went on to work for the U.S. Civil Service Commission in San Francisco during World War II; he was reportedly the first African American to work at San Francisco's city hall in a professional capacity. He became an expert on housing issues and discrimination, and went on to work as a housing specialist for the National Urban League. In 1947 he was hired by Pepsi-Cola as an assistant sales manager.
Boyd was the protégé of Pepsi's president, Walter S. Mack, who theorized that Pepsi might surpass its biggest competitor, Coca-Cola, in some markets by making an effort to increase sales among African Americans. Mack had tried to put together a sales team for this task back in 1940, but the effort was disbanded when the United States entered World War II. In 1947 Mack hired Boyd to create a national advertising campaign, and Boyd concocted a scheme that was brilliantly simple: He came up with print ads that showed middle-class African Americans enjoying the soft drink. One of the early ads featured a young boy named Ron Brown, who would later become U.S. Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton administration; Brown reaches for a can of Pepsi while his mother looks down, smiling. The ads were the first time that blacks were shown in a national advertising campaign and not depicted as servants, or worse. "We'd been caricatured and stereotyped," Boyd was quoted as saying about the breakthrough in Stewart's Los Ange-les Times article. "The advertisement represented us as normal Americans."
Another campaign that Boyd created at Pepsi depicted notable African Americans, such as Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ralph Bunche. In the era before multicultural education and Black History Month, the posters were immensely popular in the community and were ordered by schools and youth groups as inspirational materials. Pepsi also targeted young consumers with an ad campaign that showed students at historically black colleges. "Boyd hired some of the first black advertising models, flooded black papers with ads and added new sophistication and prominence to the ads already being published in magazines like Ebony," asserted writer Douglas Martin in the New York Times. "He created the first point-of-purchase displays aimed at minorities. His program also included having celebrities like Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton give ‘shout-outs’ for Pepsi from the stage."
Encountered Racism at All Levels
Boyd also headed a twelve-person, college-educated sales force to promote Pepsi products across the country, but they were paid less than their white counterparts at the company. He traveled with the team to schools, church groups, and meetings of various black professionals to increase brand awareness in the African-American community, and their efforts took them into parts of the Deep South that were still bound by strict segregation laws. There, they stayed in blacks-only hotels and were forced to sit in segregated compartments on buses and trains, but Boyd said the most unpleasant racist moment of his Pepsi career came at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1949, when Mack addressed complaints during a meeting of the company's influential regional bottlers. Some of the bottlers voiced concerns that the company was focusing too much on black consumers, and Mack agreed with some of their points and made the comment that he, too, did not want Pepsi to become known as the African-American soft drink—though he used a racial epithet.
Boyd recalled that moment when he appeared on PBS's Tavis Smiley Show in February of 2007. "I had one of my team members sitting beside me, which was unusual because all of our team was instructed never to sit together," he told Smiley. "I was totally shocked. I was amazed. And I knew immediately that I had to do something to show that I did not accept this. That I was appalled by it. In fact, insulted by it. And so I told the [sales associate] that was next to me, who was on my team, please don't follow me, I have to leave. And I got up and … crossed in front of people to the aisle, to the next aisle, and walked out of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel grand ballroom."
Mack left Pepsi in 1951 after a management shakeup, and Boyd soon followed after his team was disbanded. Despite his successful track record, he was unable to find another corporate marketing job, and over the next three decades held a variety of positions. He worked for an advertising agency and for Wyeth International when it began an effort to sell its infant formula in African countries; for a time he ran his own market-research firm, Resources Management Ltd. CARE, the international humanitarian relief agency, hired him as a mission chief, which took him to Africa and the Middle East, and he also participated in a leadership training program for teens at the Society of Ethical Culture of New York City. A married father of four, Boyd divided his retirement years between an apartment in New York City and a 120-acre alpaca farm in upstate New York. His earlier achievements with Pepsi were forgotten until Wall Street Journal writer Stephanie Capparell wrote about his time at the company in her 2007 book The Real Pepsi Challenge: The Inspirational Story of Breaking the Color Barrier in American Business.
At a Glance …
Born Edward Francis Boyd on June 27, 1914, in Riverside, CA; died after complications from a stroke, on April 30, 2007, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Robert J. (a barber) and Emma (a real estate entrepreneur; maiden name, Barrett) Boyd; married Edith Jones, 1944; children: Timothy, Rebecca Boyd-Driver, Brandon, Edward Jr. Education: University of California-Los Angeles, bachelor's degree, 1938.
Career: Actor in Hollywood films, late 1930s; worked for the Screen Actors Guild; U.S. Civil Service Commission, housing relocation specialist, 1942-45; National Urban League, housing specialist, 1945(?)-47; Pepsi-Cola, assistant sales manager, 1947-51; worked later for the advertising agency Sherman & Marquette Inc., and for the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth International; founded his own market research firm, Resources Management Ltd., in Washington, DC; mission chief for the relief agency CARE; raised alpacas in upstate New York.
Capparell interviewed Boyd extensively for her book, and they appeared together on The Tavis Smiley Show to promote it. Several weeks later Boyd suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. He died in Los Angeles at the age of ninety-two on April 30, 2007. One of Mack's successors in the Pepsi boardroom, Donald Kendall, told the writer of Boyd's obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle that Boyd's achievement at Pepsi was akin to that of Jackie Robinson, who became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball in 1947. "Robinson may have made more headlines, but what Ed did—integrating the managerial ranks of corporate America—was equally groundbreaking," Kendall told Janine DeFao. "Long before most companies came to see the power and potential of the black consumer, Ed put doors where previously only walls existed."
Capparell, Stephanie, The Real Pepsi Challenge: The Inspirational Story of Breaking the Color Barrier in American Business, Free Press, 2007.
Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2007, p. B8.
New York Times, May 6, 2007.
New York Times Magazine, December 30, 2007.
Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), May 5, 2007.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 2007, p. B6.
"Edward Boyd," The Tavis Smiley Show, PBS, February 27, 2007, http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/archive/200702/20070227_boyd.html (accessed August 21, 2008).