One Message, or Many?

The Economist, December 31, 2011

In the television series “Mad Men”, a 1960s adman makes a pitch to a television-maker whose sales are flat. “Among Negroes sales are actually growing,” he chirps. He proposes making “integrated” ads that appeal to both black and white consumers. His idea bombs. This being the era of segregation, one of his listeners wonders if mixed-race ads are even legal.

Such days are long gone. America’s minorities will eventually be a majority of the population: by 2045, according to the most recent census. Advertisers have noticed. Many now favour cross-cultural ads that emphasise what black, Hispanic and Asian-American consumers have in common. {snip}

Ogilvy & Mather, a big ad agency, formed OgilvyCulture in 2010 as a unit specialising in cross-cultural marketing. “The ethnic ad model has not changed since the 1960s,” says Jeffrey Bowman, head of OgilvyCulture. It was the census data that made Ogilvy change its model. In 2010 Burger King stopped employing ethnic agencies such as LatinWorks, which specialised in the Hispanic market, to address its consumers as a whole rather than taking a segmented approach.

Yet some admen feel ethnicity remains relevant. “Every ten years we go through a rethink of targeted versus one voice,” says McGhee Williams Osse, co-chief executive of Burrell, a Chicago-based agency specialising in the African-American market. She argues that ethnic origin is the key to people’s identity, much more than education, income, religion, sex and sexual orientation. {snip}

Maurice Lévy, the boss of Publicis Groupe, the French ad giant that owns 49% of Burrell, says that ethnic advertising makes sense for advertisers that are very big (and so can afford multiple ad campaigns), or very specialised. A maker of cream for black skin, for example, will probably not bother marketing it to Asians.


McDonald’s has been a pioneer of ethnic advertising since the 1960s. Minorities represent about 40% of its customers in America. Neil Golden, the firm’s American chief marketing officer, argues that other Americans often follow trends set by ethnic minorities. So he watches minorities for insights he can use in ads aimed at the general market. {snip}

David Burgos, co-author of a book on marketing to the “new majority”, says that in spite of the increasing importance of minority consumers, advertisers still put ethnic ads into a separate budget—which tends to be cut first when the economy goes sour. Only 7% of marketing dollars are spent on targeted ethnic campaigns, although nearly half of Americans belong to ethnic minorities. He thinks ad-agency staff need to be more diverse.



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