Diversity Moves to the Forefront

Multicultural has gone mainstream in the Motor City. With automakers still struggling for sales, diversity marketing has taken on a new urgency among the U.S. big-three car makers, said executives with the domestic manufacturers at the North American International Auto Show here last week.

General Motors doubled the ad dollars it directs to diversity marketing in 2002, and plans to double them again in 2003, to more than $100 million, said John Middlebrook, GM’s vp and general man ager, vehicle brand marketing and corporate advertising. Neither Ford nor DaimlerChrys ler’s Chrysler Group execs would be specific, but they said they intend to increase diversity-marketing expenditures this year as well.

A recent study by Simmons Market Research revealed that 7 percent of respondents who intended to buy a domestic car were African-American and 10 percent were Hispanic. Of those who planned to buy an import, 12 percent were African-American and 15 percent were Hispanic.

Jim Schroer, Chrysler evp, global sales and marketing, said 2003 is the “Year of the Ram” in the Chinese calendar, and the car maker may use that to market to Asians.

Chrysler ran at least a half-dozen spots created by its multicultural shop, Glo bal Hue, Southfield, Mich., on main stream media in 2002 and plans to do the same in 2003, Schroer said.

GM and Ford will build on the establishment last year of offices to help coordinate and support minority-directed initiatives across their divisions. Chrysler is also working with dealers to gear local retail marketing more to different minority groups.

GM’s focus in 2003 will be to support Chevrolet outreach programs to Hispanics.

At Ford, Connie Fontaine, global multicultural marketing manager, said Ford’s Land Rover is planning a marketing push that will focus on California’s His panic population this year. In 2002, Ford enlisted actress Salma Hayek to star in Lincoln Mercury’s first Spanish-language campaign featuring a celebrity.

U.S. car mar ket ers have plenty of com petition from their Asian rivals. Honda, for example, plans to widen its 2002 “Civic nation. Represent” campaign in 2003.

“In the past we tended to focus on African-American youth for the Civic,” said Barbara Ponce, manager of emerging markets at Honda. “[But] Gen Y is much more multicultural; it’s not necessarily defined by race.”