NO MORE NEAT DEMOGRAPHIC BOXES

Census Confronts U.S. Marketers With New Ethnic Puzzles

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Call it what you will-multicultural, urban, targeted or segmented-finely tuned niche marketing will be more important than ever in the next decade as traditional demographic models become overshadowed by individual psychographics.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, African-American, Hispanic and Asian population growth will continue to outpace that of whites. By 2050, the white population will represent 53% versus the current 72%. As the white segment loses its majority status and as our population becomes increasingly multiracial and multicultural, lines of demarcation are going to blur. The term ethnic minority will lose its relevance and use. Due to the growing sophistication and complexity of consumers and how they define themselves, the model of segmentation has to evolve to a much more psychographic and personal approach that plumbs beneath attitudes and lifestyles to get to the core of each individual's desired self-image.

New means of evaluation
The resulting need to reach consumers who don't fit into neat demographic categories is a major trend that will affect marketers and media in the near future. It will require new media, new content and new means of creating, placing and evaluating targeted messages. As creators of advertising, ad agencies will have to develop breakthrough work by making it more personal. The complexity of consumers and the technology available to them will demand it.

The recent growth in media that addresses highly defined groups and their personal interests will continue. Expect to see more magazines such as Honey, Latina, The Source and Urban Latino, as well as Web sites such as BlackVoices.com, Quepasa.com, Vibe.com and Urbanwhere.com. Urban-oriented Web sites will atract a greater share of targeted advertising dollars as marketers heed the wakeup call of the 2000 census.

The late comedian Moms Mabley is famous for the line: "There ain't nothing an old man can do for me except bring me a message from a young man."

Similarly, the primary role of traditional mass media will be to lead consumers to new, more personal message sources.

Whether we view advertising on our laptop, surf the Net on our TV or use our personal digital assistant to respond to a radio promotion, the convergence of old and new media will challenge us. There will be media we haven't invented or envisioned yet.

Urban youth rule
Along with the growth of complex marketing and media options, I see a shift in traditional broadcast programming toward content that addresses personal interests in more effective ways. Maybe in the next decade we will see several African-American contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Urban youth, particularly African-Americans, will continue to lead. This technologically empowered generation cannot be ignored. Youth today have a second language, or third, as the case may be, and it's "technology."

They are more sophisticated at a younger age and have a culture that encompasses distinct attitudes, style, language and art forms.

Ethnically diverse, creative and fiercely independent, they are setting trends that resonate globally. Marketers need to capture the attention of this streetwise, influential segment by knowing as much about technology and its marketing uses as about the consumer itself.

Wise marketers must be poised to deliver highly personalized messages and creatively use all sorts of new media and individualized marketing approaches to reach these information and entertainment-hungry consumers.

Marketers will need to partner with agencies that do more than simply specialize in ethnic marketing. Effective agencies have to be technologically savvy, psychographically sophisticated and strategically adept to understand and capitalize on the dynamics of this rapidly evolving marketplace. The billions of dollars spent by this emerging market will flow to marketers that understand a new paradigm and are smart enough to hire seasoned, urban experts.

Thomas J. Burrell is chairman of Burrell Communications Group, Chicago.

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