It sounds like a marketer’s dream. A sector of consumers, with an estimated 12bn a year to spend, which is crying out to be targeted. An advertiser would have to be mad to pass up such an opportunity yet, for a variety of reasons, this is exactly what is happening.
This “opportunity” arises from the 5.5 per cent of the UK population collectively known as ethnic minorities. The majority are young, highly educated individuals. A large percentage have their own businesses. Eighty per cent were born in the UK and have grown up with the same aspirations and values as their “mainstream” counterparts. But mainstream advertising is failing to draw them in, mainly because it doesn’t address these consumers in terms they can relate to.
“Advertisers need to recognise that people are the same yet different,” says Baljit Bamrah, marketing manager of specialist Asian channel Zee TV. “Advertising has to be relevant to an audience to make a connection.”
This is a tall order if you consider that what is termed the “Asian community” is actually made up of a number of different subcultures, based on language, sex, religion and country of origin. This community is also the largest ethnic minority and the most cash-rich. Obviously a mainstream approach will have a certain amount of relevance to integrated individuals, but it is not going to appeal to a less integrated person or someone who has English as a second language.
One way of reaching this market is advertising on any of the five Asian TV channels, five local radio stations or in the plethora of Asian publications. Zee TV alone has 125,000 UK subscriber homes that watch the channel almost to the exclusion of any other, according to Bamrah.
To target the ethnic minority market, there is the commercial radio station Choice FM, currently under bid from Chrysalis Radio (MW June 25), in South London and Birmingham. While there are no full-time TV channels, there are a number of press titles and, keeping up with the times, Websites such as BlackNet. The Internet is a good way of communicating with technophiles of any creed and, as the majority of the ethnic communities are young and therefore, computer literate, a terrific way of talking to this audience. And let’s not forget the good old direct marketing campaign.
But why, apart from overcoming language difficulties, is using an ethnic medium more effective than a mainstream one?
“Recruitment provides a good example,” says Karen Pearce, formerly of the Central Office of Information (COI) and now heading her own specialist ethnic communications venture, Building Bridges. “There is very high unemployment among the ethnic minorities and people become used to the idea that they’ll be rejected. An ad in the ethnic press announces that they’ll be taken seriously.”
Pearce says a lot of organisations are interested in reaching min- © ority consumers but are failing to do so, mainly because they don’t know how to go about it. “There are three audiences – clients, ad agencies and media owners – and everybody is having difficulty com- municating with everybody else.”
She goes on to point out that this problem is compounded by a chronic lack of substantiated research to back up the figures which are bandied about on the ethnic market – a fact which makes advertisers wary.
She acknowledges that acquiring the kind of research needed would be costly and time-consuming, but adds that one per cent of a budget devoted to segmented marketing would be enough to reach all target ethnic markets. “But,” she says, “there is a wealth of data available if people would just pick up the phone. Ten calls to the movers and shakers within the ethnic media community would answer most of the problems people face.”
There is a growing number of UK agencies dedicated to marketing to minorities, which are ready and willing to help. Black PR and ad agency ASAP, headed by director Yvonne Thompson, is just such an organisation. “My agency uses a hands-on approach to reach specific niches within niche markets.” Her agency has recently been asked to market the COI’s New Deal initiative to the black community.
“Using different schedules is a must. You can’t reach everyone by advertising in one way, in one place. But take care – people want segmentation, not segregation.”
Anjna Raheja, managing director of Media Moguls, a specialist Asian agency, adds: “There is an attitude of ‘I can reach the ethnic audience, why should I use niche marketing?’. But you can’t band all Asians together – it’s not as simple as selling to Joe Public.”
She says that five years ago it was difficult to sell the idea of niche marketing, but UK agencies and advertisers are coming round to the idea of consulting specialists. An impressive list of clients, which includes The Royal Navy, Bupa and the COI – also for a New Deal initiative – attests to this. “People should realise that once you have the Asian community on side, it is extremely brand loyal.”
From the black person’s perspective, Thompson concedes that Afro-Caribbeans have more in common with their white counterparts than other minority sectors, but maintains that niche marketing is still valid. But, she adds: “Inevitably, it’s the advertiser’s choice [to take the trouble to target ethnic consumers]. Although these markets can make a substantial difference to the bottom line, they don’t account for the whole market.”
Mainstream advertisers do seem nervous of using black or Asian actors, possibly for fear of “getting it wrong” and offending ethnic groups, or perhaps because they’re worried about alienating the white audience. Worse, when it does use them, they are often stereotypes or playing token, secondary roles, which only serve to distance ethnic consumers.
Notable recent exceptions include: Grey’s Fairy Liquid ad, which features a black mum and daughter in a “normal” situation; JSW’s Tilda cooking sauce commercial, with Madhur Jaffrey; and one of the McDonald’s World Cup scratchcard executions, which featured four black friends.
These ads work perfectly well and, as Pearce says: “It is very easy to check if a campaign or ad is OK. People in all ethnic media would welcome the opportunity to give advice.”
Equally, there is no actual evidence to suggest an ad featuring a black or Asian person is a turn-off for the white audience so, as Thompson says, “why not use a black actor?”
In 1995, Business in the Community set up the Race for Opportunity initiative. The idea was to find out why race was falling off the boardroom agenda, research ethnic consumer buying habits and preferred brands and what could be done to address this audience. It found there was a feeling of exclusion, partly due to advertising but, by contrast, “a fervent desire to be accepted, understood and integrated into British life”. For this reason, it stated, ethnic communities are drawn to brands they perceive as very British, such as Marks & Spencer, Cadbury and BT.
The initiative, according to Peaches Golding of Peaches Golding Marketing & Communications, now has about 27 national companies and 80 or 90 regional organisations involved. She adds: “Diversity in the purchasing chain – on the marketing side – forges stronger links with community organisations making it easier to tap these [ethnic] markets. The cleverer shops are with merchandising, the bigger the increases in footfall and profits.”
She cites Littlewoods as an example, which offered a range of greetings cards for Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and found that coupling them with appropriate gift items lifted sales by 24 per cent. The company’s Home Shopping Group then researched and implemented an action plan to boost mail order custom from the Asian communities.
But Golding agrees that research into ethnic minority groups is very thin on the ground. She suggests that mainstream agencies could take the same step as RFO: “If 15 or 20 got together and funded proper research, it would be very cheap and beneficial to everyone in the industry.”
The importance of such an initiative is underlined by the fact that there are currently about 150,000 ethnic-owned businesses in the UK [Labour Force Survey] – a figure which is growing. Small business owners are the cornerstone of the Asian community and, according to Thompson, the number of black business owners is increasing. Fed up with being passed over in the mainstream workforce, despite having relevant qualifications (a much higher percentage of black people are leaving college with degrees than ever before), people are helping themselves.
“The upshot is,” says Thompson, “that the black small business market is booming – kids are coming up with great ideas. The black pound will grow and grow.”
Upmarket cosmetics manufacturers, such as Revlon, and high street names, such as M&S, have recognised this potential and have responded by producing ranges for darker skins. And black models are being used to promote mainstream ranges, such as transvestite personality RuPaul for MAC cosmetics.
Other companies would be wise to adjust their priorities. As Golding says: “Those that get in there will reap the rewards”. Those rewards could be considerable if, as has been predicted, the ethnic minority population doubles in the next 50 years. It only takes a bit of extra effort and a little spend to talk to everyone. The trickle has started – whether it turns into a flood remains to be seen.