Late & Great: Allen McKellar

The Wall Street Journal: “Allen McKellar, an African-American college senior in South Carolina, figured his chances were slight in 1940 when he entered in an essay-writing contest in a bid to win an internship at Pepsi-Cola Co … Pepsi chose him as one of 13 interns. After serving in the Army, he returned in 1947 to join a Pepsi marketing team focused on African-Americans at a time when few large companies hired blacks for white-collar jobs.”

“At Pepsi, Mr. McKellar and his colleagues persuaded Duke Ellington and other jazz stars to give shout-outs to the soft drink, according to ‘The Real Pepsi Challenge,’ a 2007 book by Stephanie Capparell, a Wall Street Journal editor. They were treated as celebrities in the black press as they crisscrossed the country to pitch Pepsi by giving interviews and visiting schools, church groups and mom-and-pop groceries.”

“Pepsi already had set itself apart by offering 12 ounces for a nickel, while most rivals sold 6-ounce bottles for the same price. Promising “twice as much,” Pepsi ads appealed to the less affluent. The soft-drink company hoped its willingness to hire African-Americans for prominent roles and to market directly to blacks would give it further advantages over Coca-Cola.” In a 2009 interview, Mr. McKellar commented: “Back in those days, there were one or two things a minority kid could expect to do: You could become a teacher or, if you had the financial resources, a doctor. I became the national sales representative for the black market in America. I have been told this was a precursor for blacks in the corporate world.”

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