Over 45 days, Black Enterprise
shares 45 milestone events among the nation’s largest
black-owned businesses that have had widespread impact on black
economic development and American industry across four decades.
This is in tribute to the 45th anniversary of Black
Enterprise’s iconic BE 100s yearly list of the largest
black-owned companies.

Today we reveal No. 37 in the web series “Great Moments in
Black Business.” 

1993: UniWorld Group, one of the largest black
ad agencies, slays advertising leviathan Saatchi & Saatchi
to win the Burger King general-market account.

It was a whopper of presentation.

Burger King, the perennial No. 2 burger chain, was not prepared
to lose another market share battle in the Burger Wars against
McDonald’s. After firing quite a few lead advertising agencies
in the 1980s and early 1990s for their inability to develop
consistent, sustainable marketing messages, the fast food
giant’s honchos called Byron Lewis, president and CEO of
UniWorld Group Inc., one of the nation’s largest African
American ad agencies, to tell him that his firm had a shot to
head Burger King’s national interim campaign while it searched
for a full-time agency.

(Image: Black
Enterprise Magazine)

 

 

Having It Their Way With Burger King

 

UniWorld had successfully handled Burger King’s marketing
targeted to the African American community since 1983. Now,
some 10 years later, Lewis was told that he and his creative
crew would not automatically gain the assignment but would be
pitted against the massive global media behemoth Saatchi &
Saatchi. Although Lewis knew UniWorld wasn’t in the running for
the top advertising spot on a permanent basis that fact didn’t
deter the daring entrepreneur from fully embracing the
challenge and pushing his agency to the max.

As he recounted in my book, BLACK ENTERPRISE Titans of the
BE 100s: Black CEOs who Redefined and Conquered American
Business,
of the contest: He became personally involved,
pulling in his best people. Together, they worked around the
clock, conjuring up slogans and reviewing scores of
storyboards. Within weeks. Lewis & Co. struck pay dirt with
the new tag line: “We may not be No. 1, it just tastes that
way.”

That line and their presentation more than satiated the
competitive appetite of Burger King’s top management. It won
UniWorld the $170 million account—the largest general market
campaign ever awarded to an African American firm–and in the
process, the firm char-broiled a Madison Avenue giant.

Between 1993 and 1994, UniWorld worked at a feverish pace on
the campaign, pumping out more than 50 commercials. As a
result, the Home of the Whopper took a chomp out of the Big
Mac, sustaining its first ever sales increase over a six-month
period to more than 13% over the previous year. Although the
firm would not gain accolades from the advertising trade press,
it was clear that UniWorld was the only firm at the time
capable of resuscitating Burger King’s flagging sales and
torched reputation.

“We Proved That We Could Compete”

 

Despite UniWorld’s inability to gain the general market account
on a permanent basis, the firm once again demonstrated its
talent, experience, and inventiveness. “We proved that we could
compete with mainstream agencies and be successful,” Lewis told
BE of this major barrier-breaking milestone
for African American agencies.

(Image: Black
Enterprise Magazine)

 

Black advertising agencies have been succeeding against the
odds since BE revealed its first ranking of
the nation’s largest African American-owned advertising
agencies in 1973—a roster of 15 firms that recorded total
billings of $31.4 million versus $13.6 billion for the total
industry.

In 1998, BE would re-introduce the adverting
agencies list with 20 companies generating $798 million in
billings versus $187. 5 billion in total marketing spend. By
2016, the last year that we compiled the list, the ranks—now
measured by revenues—had dwindled to eight. Throughout our
45-year history, only two black agencies had appeared on all of
BE‘s measurements of black firms:
Chicago-based Burrell Communications and UniWorld.

Black-Owned Advertising Firms Denied Access

 

Throughout four decades, black agencies have been largely
denied access to lucrative general market accounts and during
much of the 1970s and 1980s designated to crafting messages for
the burgeoning black consumer market. But the tide turned: As
these firms sold white advertisers on the potential and power
of African American consumers, experts like Ken Smikle’s 
Target Market News maintained, majority
corporations increasingly used to white agencies. “The
mainstream agencies started competing for the budgets that
black advertising agencies had developed without safeguarding
any of our territory,” Lewis said in an interview for the
Titans book. “So it was clear that the competitive
threat to UniWorld would not only come from other established
black agencies but also mainstream firms.”

By the 1990s and turn of the century, large, majority firms
started urban consumer-focused boutiques as well as merged and
partnered with African American companies, including
BE 100s ad agencies:
Publicis took a 49% stake in Burrell in 1999 and eventually
UniWorld sold 49% to WPP Group plc as part of a strategic
alliance. Today’s African American firms contend with the most
direct threat to its future, the abandonment of target
marketing altogether for the so-called “total market”
approach.

UniWorld Breaks Barriers

 

Since Lewis launched UniWorld in 1969 with $250,000 in funds
from two venture capital firms, he had been nimble and
adaptable from the start. He buoyed the firm by targeting the
entertainment industry in the early days, developing marketing
campaigns for the black action film, Shaft and its
sequel, and creating an urban radio soap opera, Sounds of
the City,
sponsored by Quaker Oats.

(Image: Black
Enterprise Magazine)

 

He also focused on political programming, striking a joint
venture with then-BE 100s radio broadcaster
National Black Network to air the 1976 Democratic and GOP
conventions, securing AT&T as a sponsor as a means for the
telecommunications company to gain access to “influential and
affluent African Americans.” That radio broadcast would serve
as the precursor for America’s Black Forum, a
nationally syndicated television program he started in 1984,
airing in 70 markets over two decades with advertising from
Burger King and Ford Motor Co.

Lewis’ message of market share protection through deeper
penetration of African American and Latino markets resonated
with white advertisers in the 1980s. His accounts grew to
include long-term clients such as Kodak, Bank of America,
Colgate Palmolive, Motorola, Pepsi, and Microsoft. The firm had
come a long way: When UniWorld first appeared on the BE
Advertising Agencies
list in 1973, its billings were
$3.5 million. By the time, it was named Advertising Agency of
the Year in 2000, the accounts expanded to 18 major
corporations and billings grew to $230 million.

The Burger King account had become one of UniWorld’s defining
moments though. That milestone led to a full-fledged general
market account. In 1995, M&M/Mars, the mammoth candy
manufacturer, awarded UniWorld the $11 million 3 Musketeers
candy bar campaign. Although it was a mainstream effort,
UniWorld brought its multicultural sensibilities to marketing
the product. The campaign featured comedienne Fran Drescher,
star of then-hit sitcom The Nanny, three swordsmen and
the slogan, “Big on chocolate, not on fat.” Since the candy bar
was a hit among ethnic consumers, UniWorld’s creative team
included an African American actor to play one of the
foil-carrying characters.

For UniWorld, the campaign, among the largest ever awarded an
ethnic agency, was sweet. Due to such achievements,
UniWorld—and Lewis, a 2013 Advertising Hall of Fame inductee
for leading an ethnic agency that gained some of the largest
mainstream accounts —today receives its due.

See the below interview with Byron Lewis when he was awarded
the AG Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award:

 

Access the entire digital version of the 2017
May/June issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE featuring our 2017 BE 100s
report and subscribe to Black Enterprise Magazine here.
 

And view the full list of the 2017 BE
100s here.

 

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