Art & Commerce: Minority Report

Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief, Adweek
So far, Colgate-Palmolive, Macy’s and PepsiCo have publically pledged to spend more ad dollars on ethnic media. Rev. Al Sharpton and his Madison Avenue initiative want to see “10 times” that number of companies by this time next year.
If buying targeted media is considered by many to be smart business, given growing minority purchasing power, what’s the problem?
How can advertisers say targeting ethnic media is important, but fail to put their money where their mouth is? Change is difficult. At the second Invitational Summit on Multicultural Markets held in New York last week, it was clear that advertisers and ad agencies prefer business as usual.
Advertisers and their agencies have supported the traditional media buying paradigm for the last 25 years. In short, it’s considered more efficient to advertise nationally rather than locally, using vehicles that reach the most consumers. For example, you can be the No. 1 ethnic radio station in your market, but still not get paid the same rate a general market station would command.
Alec Gerster, evp of Grey Advertising, calls this method of operation “institutional stupidity.” Page Thompson, media director at DDB Worldwide, admits that agencies have done little to change things. Thompson says it’s the agency’s duty to pose the question of targeting
ethnic media to clients.
“I think there are a lot of people talking to clients about that,” Thompson says. Are we beating around the mulberry bush? Yes, and we have been doing it for 25 years.”
Thompson has promised to raise the issue in writing with buyers and his CEO. He’s also pledged to report on his progress next year. More ad agencies need to do the same. But nothing will change unless advertisers are committed.
Agencies say it’s the client’s decision. Advertisers say few agencies have ethnic shops. Pointing fingers at each other isn’t going to help.
Change is inevitable–and not as painful as it may seem. The insurance company Nationwide says it has made a 100 percent change in the last two years in the amount it spends on ethnic media. The firm spends about $7 million on multicultural media, which is 20 percent of its $30 million ad budget. “You can’t count on the general market to deliver the audience,” said R. Steven Johnston, vp of advertising. Johnston says there are more companies like his doing the same. They’re just not standing up and beating their chests about it.
They should. Everyone can learn from success stories. If nothing else, it puts Sharpton’s protest in truer perspective. It could also quell his urge to draw up a hit list of the “worst advertisers”–companies with fat ad budgets and a record of not spending enough of those dollars on ethnic-targeted media.
Clearly, the pressure on the ad industry won’t disappear. And it shouldn’t. Some even claim 20 percent of an ad budget is not enough to reach this audience.
“Marketers haven’t perceived the value of African American markets,” says Louis Carr, evp of broadcast media sales at Black Entertainment Television. “Twenty percent is good, but how much better can it be?