WEIGHING OPTIONS: Is Your Coffee Black?

Ethnicity in Marketing

Someone enlightened genius recently concluded that member of minority groups are as different from each other as they are from white people. (Although the USA is ‘browning’—that is there is a rapidly growing non-white population, whites are still are numerically more numerous.) So for all intents and purposes, non-whites are still ‘minorities.’

 Does this make a difference in how we perceive each other as people? I contend that it does because for all the protestations to the contrary, America is a racially conscious country. It plays a role in our social lives, and of course, business.

 In advertising messages must resonate. Advertising is influential if it is tailored to appeal to a group. From group to group, the texture of message is different. Why, one asks. Well, it has to do with an assumption that a message, in this case, a television commercial, filed with racial symbolism is special because it speaks an ethnic language, is pure hogwash. Here is the reality people.

 As a black man, I am not inclined to spray Old Spice on my body because some dude named Mustafa is hawking it. I don’t respond to slang, or loud music or ethnic image by running to the store. Nor am I going to buy a hamburger because it’s sold at Mickey D’s. Also, I’m not going to buy anything MJ, or Kobe endorses. And please, don’t expect me to buy a jersey with some guy’s name on it – it runs counter to my upbringing that a man emblazoned with another man’s name is more common in prison than outside the bars.

 As a consumer, I am my own man.

 By the same token, there are those that are also black that will not buy any product unless it carries the secret language peculiar to black people. There are some people that buy things as a matter of conspicuous consumption – it is a statement that ‘one has arrived.’ They buy not to ‘keep up with the Jones,’ but because they are the ‘Jones.’

 I’m not putting any of that down. I earn my living targeting and crafting messages to groups. When I get it right, you can bet the client benefits.

 The prudent agency employs what I call buyer stimuli. I understand that this behavior is seen in every group. It is a response to whatever appeals. For me it is a little simpler; I buy products that I deem superior to similar products. My job is to put out literature on a product that has some appeal to buyers. I prefer to look at the psychology behind it all, not the symbols designed to actuate a purchase. Consumers, no matter what ethnicity they happen to be, don’t want to be insulted by the supplier of goods, but respected.

 Villanova University recently concluded an insightful recent study examining consumer’ perceptions of various national brands. They found that despite their deeply rooted cultural differences, there is an uncanny similarity in responses by various minorities’ to advertising.  It appeals that this study validates the idea that it is not racial or ethnic identity that determines minorities’ response to a brand, not in the least. It appears the common factor triggering consumer purchases deals with how welcoming the brand makes one feel. 

 No one wants to be viewed as a stereotype. People are in uniformity that minorities ate united in the marketplace if respective tastes and culture is part of the advertising process. Remember, without this, the brand is isolated. As I proceed forward in my career it is encumbered on me to include minorities consumers for their importance in the commercial process. My ads will not depict anyone as either a gringo, cholo, or ‘brother’ for the sake of showing how ‘down,’ I can be. The advertising world be an easier place if the agencies stops the subtle elements of discrimination.  

 Face it, however so gradual the USA is changing its complexion. If creative agencies and producers truly are serious about selling products and ideas, the racial shift must reflect a broader racial and ethnic spectrum. If we fail – the failure is collective.  In its current fragility, the American economy cannot afford it. And since the economy is global, neither can the world.


Bernard A. McNealy, President/CEO


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