What a Waste of Research Funding

Looking for Information Already in Plain Sight

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Alberto Ferrer Alberto J. Ferrer
"When targeting multicultural audiences, be relevant," read the headline of an article on AdAge.com (01/02/08). It was referring to findings from a study commissioned by a general market media company (remember Mediasaurus?) to look into how ethnicity impacts consumer behavior and receptivity to advertising.

Hold the phone! Stop the presses! What a revelation! As I read that, I thought to myself -- sarcastically, I'll grant you -- "thank heavens that this media agency is here to tell us that we should market to ethnic consumers with culturally-relevant messages." I then thought -- without a hint of sarcasm this time -- "this is exactly what happens when you send a multinational general market media company to do a multicultural agency's job."

But wait; there are more findings in this piece of research. Apparently, ethnic consumers don't want to see themselves represented in advertising "in a stereotypical manner." That's another head-shaker for me. It really turns the multicultural marketing communications world on its ear, that one. Not! Even I wrote about that in a post last year.

In reality, no self-respecting multicultural agency would ever suggest stereotypical representations of the target consumer. The same goes for messaging that is not culturally- relevant. We in the multicultural agency industry uttered a collective and deafening "duh!" at these.

The article goes on to note that the research found that consumers responded better to creative that had "multicultural cues" versus ads that were simply translated from general market ads. A representative from the media agency in question is quoted as saying that relevance is more about communicating "in kind" than about language. Really? For sure? That sounds familiar...

There is also mention of the importance of cultural relevance in media placement, with the study noting that "ad models created on the basis of general population statistics... are likely to fall short if they do not take relevant ethnic differences into account." This is something that Hispanic Marketing agencies have been telling clients for many years.

Now, to be fair, we need to realize that there is a dearth of knowledge about ethnic consumer marketing at these media agencies and so it is to be expected that they start at the beginning with research that shows what the multicultural marketing industry has been saying for many years already. Baby steps, I suppose.

In the past, I've been critical of these general market media companies' attempts to retain their splintering media dollars by selling to clients an expertise the agencies lack. I'm also critical of the clients who drink that Kool-Aid and put their multicultural marketing dollars at these agencies.

This piece of research, and the attention it got by a publication of the caliber of Advertising Age, are just further proof of the points I've been trying to make in this blog. The clients to which the media agency will present those findings could more easily have called a multicultural agency and gotten the same information plus the benefit of years of expertise in marketing to multicultural audiences.

Multicultural agencies do that every day with clients and prospects, without issuing a press release about it, and Advertising Age doesn't write one word about it. So to me, the story angle here is not the study's findings. The real angle is the agency that commissioned it and the fact that what they learned is already common knowledge to a great many people.
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