In this case at least, the figures don't lie. Sometime around the year 2045, the minority population in the U.S. will become the majority. If your small business competes in a market area with a high concentration of minority consumers, it is likely you have figured out how to advertise to them. If your advertising campaign is regional or national in scope, however, and you are struggling to understand what multicultural advertising should look like and how well it works, you're not alone.
Historically, multicultural advertising has been limited by the simple fact that minority populations were heavily concentrated in certain locales. For most national advertisers and some regional ones, there were relatively few minority consumers to advertise to. Add to that a lack of minority-focused media outlets with the necessary reach, and a lack of minority marketing expertise in the advertising community, and you can see why many companies decided to punt on the idea. These factors, while still present to some degree, have largely been overcome. Most notably, there has been explosive population growth in the United States among the Hispanic, African American and Asian communities.
The New Advertising and Media Landscape
According to census data, ethnic minorities now account more than half of all children born in the U.S. There has been a corresponding explosion in minority-focused media. Tools for evaluating the effectiveness of the various media choices and the impact of the advertising that appears in them have kept pace as well. In many companies, the rationalization that it's already reaching minorities through its general market advertising has given way to a belief that they'd better get good at multicultural advertising in a hurry.
Advertising Imitates Life
The premise behind taking a multicultural approach to advertising is that differences between ethnic groups in the U.S. remain significant, and that targeting minorities via advertising dedicated to them allows an advertiser to tap into cultural cues specific to a given group. Advertising that mirrors consumers and their cultural values builds a strong affinity between the brand and the target audience. Connecting with your consumers on their terms, often in their native tongue, increases the likelihood your interaction with them will be memorable and impactful.
The Eye of the Beholder
The longstanding debate within advertising circles over multiculturalism is a tactical one. From a creative standpoint, some advertisers prefer one multicultural campaign for all consumers, while others prefer separate campaigns (and budgets) for minority markets and the general market. The former group focuses on common denominators among all cultures and cites the impact of multiculturalism on American culture overall as support for its approach. The latter focuses on what makes each culture unique. It argues that ethnic origin is a greater determinant of a person's identity than age, income and education. Still others offer practical advice: Minority-specific advertising makes sense only for advertisers who can afford two or more parallel campaigns.
Mike Gonyea served as an account manager and strategic planner at a Detroit advertising agency for 20 years. He has covered automotive finance, state and local government and interfaith issues for publications and websites including “The Detroit News,” American Thinker and A Common Word.