Ethnic Marketing: One Size Does Not Fit All

Globalization has become a controversial topic in recent times and people often disagree on whether we are experiencing too much or too little of it. Paradoxically, globalization both increases and decreases diversity. This raises important new challenges for marketers.

Many believe that globalization threatens their way of life or that it creates a world with few winners and many losers, and therefore countries should oppose it. Others argue instead that countries should find ways to accelerate their links to global trading networks as new markets offer great opportunities, and because trade barriers hurt producers in poor countries.

First, globalization leads to an increase in diversity within countries. Contemporary societies are vastly more diverse than they used to be. Second, globalization also leads to a decrease in diversity between countries. Whereas a few decades ago, people in different countries lived very different lives, we can now observe a remarkable cultural convergence. For example, teenagers today listen to the same music, dress in the same way, and play the same games regardless of whether they live in London, New York, or Beijing.

The days of ‘one-size-fits-all’ marketing are over. Companies must use multicultural marketing approaches and target ethnic segments based on their own cultural framework. However, when marketers create ethnic targeting strategies for each cultural group, they usually profile everyone within that group the same way, and overlook the differences between first- and second-generation minority consumers.

A recent research project we conducted reveals that the cultural baggage of the second generation is more complex, being influenced both by the cultural heritage of their parents’ country, and the mainstream culture of the “host” country in which they have been raised. By contrast, first generation ethnic minorities retain a stronger bond with the cultural roots that they established before being re-located.

We found that the first generation groups reacted more positively to advertisement featuring a same-heritage spokesperson and, as a result, developed more positive attitudes towards the institution or company responsible for the advertisement. Second generation groups reacts in a similar manner to adverts featuring same-heritage and majority spokespersons.

When it comes to media planning, companies often attempt to target minority consumers using media and contexts which reach consumers when their ethnic identity is especially salient; for example advertising on a website focused on the minority. And when it comes to advertising copywriting, companies often target ethnic minorities by using minority models or spokespersons

The main strategies used to target ethnic minorities are not equally effective among all minority consumers. The media planning strategy seems to work better for second- than for first-generation consumers. Conversely, the copywriting strategy seems to work better for first- than for second-generation consumers. These effects can be explained by differences in the acculturation processes of minority consumers.

We strongly recommend that marketers consider the approach and content of their campaigns, depending upon the generational status of their target audience. From a copywriting perspective, they should consider very carefully what they have to say and who will deliver the message. From a media planning perspective, they should give considerable thought to the timing of their campaign and the linguistic and cultural context in which they wish to set it.

Above all, marketers should resist the temptation to view ethnic minorities as a homogenous group from which they will elicit the same reaction, regardless of their cultural identity. Comprehension of and adaptation to the generational status of ethnic minority consumers and the strength and complexity of their cultural heritage are crucial to the process of successful marketing.