Instinct often best multicultural tool

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Marketers' growing awareness of the U.S.' ethnic diversity is filtering down to the agencies that buy media for these advertisers.

The field of multicultural media buying is small, but it's growing. Among the challenges facing planners and buyers is the fact that targeting specific ethnic groups is more of an art than a science so far, and there are few technical tools to identify audiences and measure results.

One thing is clear to those who have ventured furthest into the evolving arena is that specialized multicultural media demand specialists, and comparisons with the tasks of general-market media buying are difficult to make.

Mark Robinson, managing partner of S/R Alliance, the New York-based holding company for multicultural agencies and buying units affiliated with Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, says special skills are needed. "You learn about this consumer segment, what are the psychographic, demographic and consumer behavioral trends," he says.

NOT A VARIANT

Specialty multicultural media shops carp that their general-market counterparts treat multicultural media like a variation on mainstream media buying, but that in reality ethnic media require a lot more research and planning to use effectively. Context and timing become key considerations.

Mr. Robinson works with minority media trade associations that help him understand the market. Among these groups is the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, which supports African-American radio. The associations often have specific policies about promoting tobacco or liquor, which agency executives must learn to make media buys.

Another big difference between multicultural and general media buying is that multicultural is oriented around qualitative results, while general media buying is quantitative. General media buyers try to drive down costs per thousand and get the best buy for the dollar, while specialized multicultural buyers make qualitative decisions on the best media to buy to reach their market, say multicultural media buying experts.

RADIO STRONG TIE

Radio has been used to localize promotions and target specific ethnic groups who listen to certain stations.

True North Communications' Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich., multicultural agency of record for Kmart Corp., relied heavily on radio in a promotion centering on Tom Joyner, a top radio personality. In addition to running spots on Mr. Joyner's nationally syndicated show, Kmart earlier this year sponsored a Caribbean cruise promoted by the radio personality.

The Joyner promotion was targeted to African-American moms who listen to Mr. Joyner's show and also tend to shop at Kmart-and who were longing to get away to a warm climate in the dead of winter, says Terri Gamble, a senior media planner at Coleman. "You're not just making a media buy, you can't do that. You have to prove yourself worthy of [multicultural audiences'] patronage, and the way to do that is by reaching into the community."

WEB LINKS STRONGER

The Internet is proving to be another effective multicultural ad medium. McDonald's Corp. this month kicked off an effort to drive Hispanic Web surfers to a McDonald's site to promote store events. Media Contacts Diversity, Miami, part of Havas Advertising, made buys for McDonald's on Hispanic sites. "We found out where they are on the Internet and created a media plan targeting this online group," says Nicolas Ploquin, Media Contacts general manager.

Until recently, long-distance telephone marketers were the only companies targeting Asian-Americans, but package-goods, financial services and automotive marketers are starting to join them, says Saul Gitlin, exec VP-strategic services and new business for WPP Group's Kang & Lee, New York.

"Package goods is virgin territory; it goes to the Hispanic market but not Asian," Mr. Gitlin says.

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