Different Strokes

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Blacks and whites continue to have vastly different television viewing habits, according to a recent study by TN Media, the media-planning division of True North Communications. Only three regular television series were rated in the top ten for both groups while the two top-rated shows in black households, Steve Harvey and The Jamie Foxx Show, ranked 127 and 120, respectively, in white households.

"People may work together during the day, but at night they're immersed in their own culture," says Alfred Schreiber, managing partner of the New York City-based New America Strategies Group, True North's multicultural marketing arm. The study, "Television Viewing Among African-Americans," used fourth-quarter 1998 Nielsen television ratings, and was released in February. This is the third year that it has been conducted.

Though differences in viewing patterns persist among blacks and whites, they have been lessening: Monday Night Football was the only show in both groups' top-20 list in 1996; in 1998 six shows made both lists. Blacks also watched 40 percent more television than whites last year, though that gap has narrowed 11 percent since 1994.

In fact, Schreiber says many advertisers' strategy for reaching blacks has been based solely on the fact that blacks watch more television, and that's unwise. "What's extremely important is not that they watch more, but that it's different TV. You need to reach them through culturally relevant media," he says.

Schreiber finds that media-planning departments are also ignorant of the strength of minority groups' buying power. He points to a recent Federal Communications Commission report on discriminatory practices in radio, which found that advertisers receive steep discounts on media that targets minorities. That's dramatically reflected in the proportion of ad dollars designated to ethnic markets overall: Only 1 percent of the estimated $200 billion spent on advertising each year targets ethnic consumers, says Schreiber. Advertisers are short-changing themselves, he says, since ethnics account for 25 percent of all consumer spending.

Indeed, blacks spend a lot more than whites in several categories. According to Target Market News, a Chicago-based research firm, blacks spend more than twice as much on online computer services, almost five times more on tape recorders, and more than twice as much on boys' active wear.

To combat misconceptions about ethnic consumers, New America Strategies has developed an econometric method to measure ROI on marketing to minorities. "We wanted to take the favoritism out of the equation," says Schreiber. "In the past, a Hispanic agency would call an advertiser and say you need to advertise to Hispanics. But this tool is neutral because we have no ethnic bias since we're not a stand-alone ethnic agency."

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