Defining Demographics in an ‘Age of Blending’

LOS ANGELES U.S. Census Bureau figures have aided in underscoring the potential rewards for marketing to ethnic populations, but effectively communicating with the multicultural market remains a challenge.

That was one issue addressed Friday at the American Advertising Federation National Conference, held at the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa in Los Angeles.

The panel discussion was titled, “Aftershocks of Demographic Change: The Real Value of Multiculturalism.”

Thomas Burrell, chairman and CEO of Burrell Communications Group in Chicago, cautioned that multicultural marketing is “not a means by which to conveniently figure out a way to cut corners by rationalizing that we’re living in an age of blending. It saves money, it saves time, but it’s not true.” He added: “Pop culture is what marketing is about. Clearly the African American segment, especially among youth, are leaders in the area of popular culture.”

One obstacle for delivering multicultural marketing messages is a lack of targeted cross-platform media, said Al Anderson, chairman and founder of Anderson Communications in Atlanta. “The challenge in black media is that there are no conglomerates,” like AOL Time Warner, he said. “All the organizations are independent. We don’t have cross-platform media, there’s BET, radio stations and newspapers and magazines.” Those with black media experience must put platforms together, Anderson said.

There is also a paucity of English-language programs that target Hispanics, said Christy Haubegger, founder of Latina magazine and a consultant for Creative Artists Agency. “After you buy the George Lopez spot, there’s not another place for you to go,” she said.

Mario Obledo, president of the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, called for increased Hispanic presence in ads running on general-market media. He also faulted Taco Bell for its former ads that featured a Chihuahua. “I don’t want to be represented by a dog,” he said. “I’m asking you very patiently to include Hispanics in everyday TV ads. Right now, we are an invisible minority. That has to be corrected.” He asked that Hispanics in ads look like Hispanics and be portrayed as role models.

Regarding marketing to the Asian American population, Zan Ng, chairman and founder of New-A in New York, said that the community is “a baby in the industry.” Asian Americans have the buying power of more than one-third of the total market, he said. “We’re higher educated and know how to make money, especially the small business owner.” While banks and telecom companies have recognized this and addressed Asian Americans in their ads, there are also opportunities for pharmaceuticals, packaged goods and housing, Ng said. “This is an untapped market,” he said. “It’s very new.”

This year’s AAF National Conference began on June 4 and runs through June 7. It has attracted nearly 1,000 attendees, an AAF representative said.