Ethnic Marketers Face Resistance

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Despite the economic downturn, Hispanic media have fared well in the advertising market. Nonetheless, it will take more than burgeoning population statistics to convince some reluctant marketers and their agencies to steer more ad dollars toward brightening the multicultural rainbow.

For some advertisers, it will require a change in business their mindset — or a closer look at retail sales breakouts for minority neighborhoods.

And for some general-market agencies, it will require a shift from a "revenue-protection strategy" toward including ethnic ad agencies in efforts to build clients' marketing plans.

Those were some of the consensus views that emerged from the multicultural panel session at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's 20th annual Cable Advertising Conference here on Feb. 5.

Earlier in the day, Starcom North America CEO Renetta McCann foreshadowed the afternoon panel, noting, "Mass media is becoming less mass … [now that] the face of America is changing."

There are now an estimated 35 million Hispanics, 34 million African-Americans and 10 million Asians among the U.S. population, said McCann, including 56 million people concentrated in urban markets. There are also 21 million gays and lesbians and untold millions who are part of "the graying of America," she added.

After citing more statistics from outside the mainstream — 20 percent of Americans can't speak any English, minority groups are growing seven times faster than the general population and 77 percent of the under-18 population is of ethnic descent — McCann warned that marketers that igonore these trends "will feel it in the bottom line."

Despite last year's overall market downturn, spending on ethnic ads continued to surge, noted Advertising Age
international and multicultural editor Laurel Wentz.

Last year, advertisers spent about $2.1 billion on Hispanic media, $1.5 billion on ads aimed at African-Americans and $360 million on efforts geared to Asian Americans, she estimated.

Even though minorities will become the majority within 10 to 25 years, multicultural specialists will still be required to navigate linguistic and cultural obstacles, noted Bcom3 Group chief strategy officer Jessica Pantannini.

Although the panelists cited Verizon Communications, Anheuser-Busch Inc., Miller Brewing Co. and M&M/Mars as ethnic-marketers who "get it," Starcom's McCann wondered why there hasn't been "more traction" in spending on ads for the rising minority populations.

JP Morgan Chase vice president of diverse markets William Ortiz cited "the fear of making a mistake," especially in a down economy. During a downturn, he said, targeting ethnic consumers is a lower priority on the ad community's "list of things to do."

From the audience, Black Entertainment Television executive vice president Louis Carr asked whether it's "the agency's or the client's responsibility" to spur action on pursuing the ethnic sector.

"The answer is both," replied McCann. "Ultimately, it's [the clients'] money. The agency really does need to weigh in with an opinion."

The most retail-driven companies in the telecommunications, fast-food and apparel categories tend to be the most aware of minority clout, McCann said. In those cases, "the client is in charge and tends to pull the agency along," she said.

Wentz cited yet another potential obstacle: General-market ad agencies are unlikely to recommend ethnic shops that could cut into their billings.

McCann agreed, labeling this a "revenue-protection strategy."