In the 1960s, Tom Burrell became the first black man in Chicago advertising. Burrell Communications was founded in 1971 by Tom Burrell and then Partner, Emmett McBain, and was originally named Burrell McBain.[3] The company was established with the intention of forging an authentic and respectful relationship with the African American consumer, and to tap into how the Black Aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer. It was at this time that Tom Burrell coined the phrase, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”1 Recognizing that there existed inherent cultural differences, and the fact that these differences drove patterns of consumption,

became a driving force and inspiration for future ad campaigns at Burrell. Since then, the company has been wildly successful with Burrell’s ideas of “positive realism.”

What sets Burrell apart is his unfailing ability to tell a good story — positive, humanizing, and attractive — that inspires and renews his target audiences, giving them language and images with which to understand their times and their place in the world. His firm’s web site explains positive realism as, “understanding who our consumers are and who they aspire to be. It’s about honoring their culture and values.” -Carol Anne Asuband –Forbes 2014

Here are some insights into his personal creative journey2:

  1. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing your specific cultural moment, giving your times a square look, and understanding the world you’re born into as you consider what course to pursue with your life and work.
  2. “If you decide that you want to do something, let people know – because you become the marketer of what you want to do,” he said.
  3. Find talented people who understand nuances of a culture.
  4. Know your people — who are they and why are they who they are? A good advertiser should also be a good cultural anthropologist. Advertising is about telling a story, and the kind of story you tell really depends on who you’re telling it to.
  5. Celebrate “Positive Realism” which is to be into homes and communities for the long-term is through positive, multidimensional portrayals that come from an authentic and relevant place. Connecting brands with people on a deep, emotional level requires more than chasing the latest celebrity or fad.

 Happy Black History Month from you team at!