Ad agencies have recently been criticized for ignoring minority consumers. A study by the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy actually found that ad agencies have been discriminating against buying media on minority-owned radio stations and stations that have large Hispanic or African-American audiences.
Are promotion agencies guilty of similar neglect?
The minority population is increasing rapidly. The U.S. Census projects that by July 1, 2005, 12.6 percent of the population will be of Hispanic origin, 12.4 percent of Black origin, and 4.4 percent of Asian or Pacific Island origin. Other minorities will make up 0.8 percent of the population.
Some people even believe the census predictions are on the low side. “The growth is so tremendous in the minority population that even the census is inaccurate,” says Gregorio Bennett, president and creative director of Luna Bacardi Group, an agency that promotes to Hispanics.
The year 2005 is rapidly approaching. The growth in the minority population represents a huge opportunity for promotion agencies to develop expertise in marketing to these groups.
In fact, some large agencies are already well ahead of the curve. “Some of the bigger names in minorities marketing have been bought up by larger agencies in the hopes of offering one-stop shopping,” comments Roy Cook, managing director of Impact Media, an agency that conducts door-to-door sampling to Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American households. “The demand for specialized agencies is so strong that if they were available, they would be bought up,” observes Jeff McElnea, ceo of Einson Freeman, Inc.
So, why aren’t more agencies taking advantage of the opportunity to promote to minorities? Having clients that are not committed to the strategy is no excuse. As McElnea puts it, “If the client does not define the need, then it is the agency’s obligation to raise the issue and discuss it.”
Easier said than done Keep in mind, however, that marketing to minorities is not easy. It requires special skills. A true understanding of cultural nuances needs to be developed. Within each minority population, there are sub-segments which need to be understood as well. “To say, for example, that Hispanics are all the same is not true. They may come from various locations, and each location is very different,” says Bennett.
Adds McElnea: “You have to have a deep understanding of each segment and which creative stimuli and promotional offers are most effective for that segment versus the general market. The creative has to reflect the specific cultural biases.”
Bennett’s agency stays in touch with different cultural nuances by employing people from different age groups.
“We have some employees who are very young that address upcoming Hispanic affluence and the bilingual culture that they live in,” he says. “We also have older people here who are more Spanish-driven. They speak Spanish when they get home, and they aren’t as ‘hip’ as the new generation of Hispanics.”
For agencies that want to market to minorities, ingraining themselves in another culture may be difficult. “Very few mainstream promotion agencies can match the expertise of specialized agencies,” Cook argues.
It can be done, however, and McElnea feels his mainstream agency has had no choice. “At Einson, we integrated ethnic/minority promotion into our core business because, if we had not, we would have had to face the embarrassment of competitive submission from a specialist who could have fulfilled that need for clients,” he says.
Einson’s credits include a 1994 tie-in promotion for Sears with Gloria Estefan that featured a sweepstakes requiring entrants to examine Gloria’s album, Abriendo Puertas. Estefan’s album title (a Spanish phrase for seeking new worlds of opportunity while healing old wounds) conveyed a positive and culturally sensitive message to the Hispanic community that was well-received by its audience. More than 40,000 entries poured in, 70-percent of them in Spanish.
“These are unique groups with unique situations. They haven’t been amalgamated into the general population, and they need to be addressed separately,” Cook explains.
No matter how difficult an agency may find it to begin incorporating this specialty, it is necessary. “Promotion is the quickest and easiest way to build brand loyalty,” Bennett points out. “If you don’t market to minorities, you aren’t marketing to the future of the United States.”
It may seem that the ad world is dropping the ball when it comes to minorities. This is yet another opportunity for promotion marketers to show how much smarter they are.