Chicago-based global ad organization Burnett and New York-based, multicultural-specific YAR have long been aware of the opportunities that multicultural marketing affords. But it is only in the last decade that ethnic populations' rising incomes and buying power have spurred agencies everywhere into action.
"We preach that multiculturalism in marketing is mainstream today," says Yuri Radzievsky, president-CEO of YAR.
SEXY TO BE HYPHENATED AMERICAN
He started YAR in the '70s with his wife, Exec VP-Chief Operating Officer Anna Radzievsky. YAR merged into Ogilvy & Mather in 1981 but was relaunched as an independent agency in 1990. Recently acquired by Leap Group, Chicago, YAR claims billings of $200 million from clients including American Airlines, AT&T Corp., Nike and Walt Disney Co.
Though advertisers once shunned segments of the market believed to be unreachable or unrewarding, as Mr. Radzievsky explains, "today it is sexy to be a hyphenated American."
"It's not the politically correct thing to do; it's the smart thing to do," explains Dolores Kunda, VP-account director for Burnett's decade-old Hispanic unit. "This is a train that is coming down the tracks at 100 miles per hour. Jump on now or you'll get run down."
With this rapidly increasing number of advertisers and agencies vying for their attention, multicultural audiences have become powerful engines.
"The real challenge is to keep abreast of what the consumer really looks like," says Don Richards, senior VP-director of resource development at Burnett. Burnett's list of multicultural advertisers includes Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and McDonald's Corp.
Though Burnett's Hispanic unit is its only designated department for ethnic marketing, the agency handles accounts that target a variety of segments. Mr. Richards attributes Burnett's success with these clients' campaigns to its ability to monitor consumer insights, values and desires.
BURNETT SETS THE FOCUS
A well-known Burnett spot for Hallmark Cards focuses on the family values attached to an African-American family's surprise celebration for a member's 100th birthday.
The spot features a young girl who circulates the party asking family members to sign the card for her great-grandmother.
As Mr. Richards explains, featuring the family can be particularly important in marketing to African-American and Hispanic consumers. In understanding and reflecting this focus on family, commercials are intended to present consumers with scenarios they find relevant to their lives.
Seeking a connection
Mr. Radzievsky notes that in many cases, ads targeting the mass market can both alienate and offend ethnic consumers.
For AT&T, YAR centered campaigns around experiences to which multicultural audiences could relate.
"We found the slices of life that unmistakably touch their hearts -- passing a citizenship exam, looking at the Manhattan skyline and saying 'You can't believe where I'm calling from,' " he says.
One AT&T spot aimed at Filipino-Americans features a young, recently engaged couple who e-mail their parents in the Philippines for a traditional blessing, or "pamanhikan."
Another similar spot shows a harried Filipino man calling his pregnant wife from the grocery store. After returning home, he e-mails his mother-in-law a picture of the young woman satisfying her food cravings.
Both Burnett and YAR recognize that creating ads that multicultural consumers find relevant depends heavily on having an agency that reflects the targeted audience.
Burnett VP-Manager of Creative Recruitment Wayne Johnson notes that reflecting the audience is particularly important from a creative standpoint.
"Creatives pull so much from their backgrounds, so if you have a diverse culture in the company, that comes through in the creative process," he says.
For the Burnett Hispanic unit, a representative staff includes people that are at various stages of acculturation.
"One of the key things that has made us successful is our ability to keep the unit staffed with bilingual, bicultural talent to provide learning and knowledge," says Monica Gadsby, VP-media director of the Burnett Hispanic unit. "Some members of our group fall into the Spanish-dominant category, and some fall into the more assimilated category."
Outside of the Hispanic unit and the teams that handle African-American campaigns, the agency at large relies on a loose but sensitive network of idea-sharing to make sure ads effectively target an audience.
"If you are of a particular minority, people will ask you what you think," Mr. Johnson says. "It's very informal; the relationships we have among the various groups in the agency contribute to having those things appropriately handled."
Each of the three departments of the Burnett Hispanic unit -- client service, creative and media -- holds itself responsible for keeping the agency at large informed of opportunities for successful multicultural marketing.
"We believe very much in working very closely with our general-market counterparts," says Ms. Gadsby. "We need to make sure they understand the opportunity in targeting the Hispanic consumer, so they can bring it to their clients -- if you're doing something in Los Angeles, you've got to target the Hispanic consumer."
The unit provides training seminars for Burnett employees, and hosts a Hispanic media day featuring speakers and discussions on issues affecting Hispanics.
YAR handles its accounts in "cultural circles" -- groups comprised of various positions such as creative director, copywriter, media planner and buyer -- that specialize in certain disciplines.
Martha Geller, YAR VP-director account services, describes the cultural circles as a solar system where all the planets revolve around the sun -- the culture in this case -- bringing together specific expertise.
The employees at YAR's New York office represent more than 40 different nationalities.
"It's a combination of mass-market expertise. . . and a very rich in-culture expertise for every market our customers are trying to reach," Mr. Radzievsky says.
Beyond having this requisite expertise, successful agencies have shown that while "knowing thy customer" was once enough, an evolving marketplace will require the agency of the future -- general or specialized -- to know, represent