Media Marketing: Making the most of minority marketing - Is the idea of ethnic marketing exploiting a lucrative gap in the marketplace or is it merely a patronising attempt to create another specialist marketing category?

Does your racial origin determine what you buy? That, according to Tetteh Kofi, publisher of the newest black newspaper New Nation, is ’a dollars 64 million question’.

Does your racial origin determine what you buy? That, according to

Tetteh Kofi, publisher of the newest black newspaper New Nation, is ’a

dollars 64 million question’.

’If one accepts that people’s attitudes and beliefs deriving from their

culture influence their buying patterns, and that this is a good thing

because it adds colour to our society, then one can look at the best way

to market to that particular niche,’ says Kofi.

Last week PR Week reported that Abi Adeniran, former PR and marketing

manager on New Nation’s established rival the Voice, had set up his own

agency Hothouse. And although he stresses that less than half his work

will concentrate on specific ethnic audiences, he admits this area gives

the agency its USP. Clients include British Airways and Islington

restaurant DCO - which is due to open in March.

With the UK’s ethnic community set to double over the next 30 years,

does Adeniran’s move highlight a burgeoning area of service excluded by

mainstream agencies?

’Unlike many big agencies, we have employees who have worked within this

market and have contacts on its media. Because of my ethnicity, I also

have a natural empathy for the black market, although I’m not saying

this is the case with all people of this ethnicity,’ says Adeniran.

Rather than focusing on products developed specifically for the black

community, he wants to build business among blue chip or public sector

clients targeting this audience.

Other than the obvious black media, Adeniran says one can target ’this

segment’ through the sponsorship of events including Afro-Caribbean

exhibitions or the Notting Hill Carnival. He adds: ’There are also

mainstream media which have a relatively high ethnic audience: the

Guardian for example, or GLR’s Upfront show on Wednesdays.’

But media channels aside, does the style of approach actually vary?

Adeniran believes it does: ’For example you would give a training shoe a

more risque edge and present it in a different environment. Make it


He argues that for cultural, musical or sporting reasons, black youths

set trends or act as opinion leaders for certain products. Having gained

that credibility, this endorsement can sustain the product’s life.

Marketers for global brands have recognised that the ’mass market’ has

been replaced by a more segmented one in which it is difficult to use

the same message to hit all audiences at once. For a long time US

corporates including Sears, AT&T and Coca-Cola have run dedicated

marketing programmes that target up to ten ethnic minority groups.

Other companies appear reluctant to take this path - perhaps,

justifiably, afraid of making crass assumptions about behaviour leading

to accusations of racism.

Boot and clothing manufacturer Caterpillar is a large company that wants

to retain its street level image, but creative director Shubhankar Ray

believes the idea of ’ethnic targeting’ can be very patronising.

’Targeting is bullshit. It just helps marketing people put things in a

box. The attitude that ’black is cool’ tends to come from people who

don’t understand the culture,’ argues Ray.

He says that Caterpillar’s whole advertising and marketing strategy is

multicultural: ’The advertising features real people, including a

mixture of races in street settings. We want to reflect a young person’s

urban reality rather than an ad person’s hallucination of what their

lives are about.’

Ray says the same policy is applied to its PR, which is handled by

Watch-men, an agency, interestingly, run by three black partners

Watch-men has considerable experience in music PR and is closely linked

to the underground music culture from which Caterpillar derived its


Tim Sutton, chief executive of top ten agency Charles Barker, says he

takes a pragmatic view: ’One could argue that if there are media serving

the particular community you are targeting, there’s a reason for a

specialist team to work on the account. This is not a politically

correct issue but a decision about whether it is commercially


’If we were targeting the Asian trading community, it would be, at the

very least, a courtesy to target their media. It would also be a good

idea to pick someone from a British Asian background to work on it,’

says Sutton.

However he admits that most PR agencies don’t understand the ethnic

sector as well as they might.

Another question is whether the black community is even represented

within the industry’s personnel.

It’s very difficult for generalist agencies to approach this market says

New Nation’s Kofi: ’There are more black doctors than there are black

marketing directors and therefore clients are unlikely to lead agencies

in this direction.

’There’s a real need for ethnic PR agencies. It’s too early to see the

marketplace as homogenised.’

So, is the answer to be found in generalists setting up ethnic


’I wouldn’t rule out having any specialist group,’ says Hill and

Knowlton director Giles Fraser. ’At the moment our expertise in this

area fits within the main agency but increasingly we have to be


Adeniran says: ’A few agencies have enquired about buying into our


But it’s important to become established on our own merits for reasons

of respect and credibility.’

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