Edward Boyd, Hired to Market Pepsi-Cola To African-Americans in 1947

Written by Jae Jones

Do you prefer over Coke? If you do it might just be because of Edward Francis Boyd, who targeted African-Americans with his exceptional marketing skills. Edward Francis Boyd, was a barber’s son, who was born on June 27, 1914 in Riverside, California. He went to junior college and later to the University of California. He was a dancer, singer and had small roles in movies, generally playing stereotypical roles which he despised. He ended up in New York, working for the National Urban League, a civil rights group known for pushing economic betterment. Pepsi’s president, Walter S. Mack, who both favored progressive causes and saw the vast potential of the black market, hired Mr. Boyd in 1947. 


Boyd was hired to promote Pepsi to fellow blacks into a war against white racism and black stereotypes? Boyd was hired the same year the Brooklyn Dodgers introduced Jackie Robinson. He avoided images that portrayed African-Americans in roles such as the Aunt Jemima type.

Boyd, would use pictures of distinguished black people such as Ralph Bunche, the diplomat, and pictures of high-achieving students. Boyd hired some of the first black models by flooding Black newspapers with ads. He often posted ads in popular magazines like Ebony. Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton were hired to give “shout-outs” for Pepsi from stage.

One of Boyd’s most daring acts was to hire a group of Black salesmen to visit bottlers, grocery stores, Elks Clubs, doctors’ conferences, and teachers. These individuals were often invited by churches to stand in the pulpit and discuss the soft drink, however, they never called the drink out in these meetings by its brand name. The salesmen often ran into racial problems while traveling. Hotels would not allow them to get a room, Blacks were still being lynched in the South, and the North. So, the travelers had to be discreet and careful while on their mission. Boyd had the salesmen use Pullman sleeping cars on trains so they could eat in their compartments, not segregated dining areas. One proud salesman, who was a Harvard graduate, resigned from his job after he was sent to the back of a bus. Boyd would travel with his lieutenants, who were better qualified but were not paid as much as their counterparts at Pepsi.


Boyd was a genius when it came to marketing the Pepsi brand. He sometimes used race as an explicit selling point. He disseminated a Times magazine report that Coke’s chairman, Robert W. Woodruff, had raised a toast to the re-election campaign of Herman Talmadge, the staunchly segregationist Georgia governor. He attacked Coke’s widely perceived reluctance to hire blacks. When Boyd’s team visited Chicago, Pepsi sales took over for the first time. However, the road was not always easy within Pepsi. “In 1949, Mr. Mack told 500 bottlers at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that he no longer wanted Pepsi to be known as a black drink, using a famously objectionable epithet. Mr. Boyd jolted upright and trudged out in what he called “the longest walk of my life.”

The two reconciled, but after Mr. Mack left Pepsi in 1950, corporate support for the special black sales team faded. Mr. Boyd went on to private and public jobs, including being a mission chief for CARE, the international aid agency. He later raised alpacas in Bethel, N.Y.” (Martin, 2007)



New York Times


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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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