Ethnic Marketing

By The Drum | Administrator

May 1, 2003 | 7 min read

Ethnic marketing has come a long way since a leading car manufacturer ran an ad which they adapted for the ethnic marketplace by simply airbrushing the white faces to brown – only the artist forgot to do the hands. Today, a look over the ethnic media landscape will show five independent commercial radio stations, 20 Asian TV channels and over 100 print titles, ranging from community newspapers to glossy lifestyle magazines.

Even the Royal Navy offers a halal option (describing the way livestock is slaughtered) in an effort to attract Muslim recruits.

The Asian market, in particular, is showing robust growth. According to Datamonitor, there are nearly 2.3 million Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans) in the UK, comprising 5.5 per cent of the UK population – and an annual spend of £12-15bn. They have been dubbed the “new middle class”, and are running a quarter of the UK’s small businesses.

The Bollywood phenomenon and successful TV shows The Kumars at No 42 and Goodness Gracious Me have raised general awareness and made advertisers serious about targeting ethnic communities.

Ethnic marketing is now touted as a key technique for gaining competitive advantage, and a novel way to increase market share.

Ray Barrett is a partner and creative director at London agency Barrett-Cernis and chairman of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s Ethnic Diversity Project, which will soon publish a report on ethnic representation within the advertising industry and level of ethnic marketing.

He says: “The call is for ethnic advertising. Ethnic groups are saying, ‘Represent the world as we see it, not as blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white Anglo-Saxon protestants.’ If you do that, you will get a bigger market share, and your advertising will appear to be more inclusive and truthful.”

Barrett singles out BT’s advertising as showing that it, “looks at the world as its client. It doesn’t care if it is a black-led commercial, white-led or Indian-led, as long as it is reflective of society and makes BT look like an inclusive company.”

He adds: “If you reflect the whole of society, you have the appearance of being more of a global company; to have your finger on the pulse. It’s not really ethnic, it’s just broad. As a society, we are thinking more inclusively.”

In the relatively few conurbations where ethnic minorities are concentrated, they play a disproportionately significant role in the economic activity relative to the population as a whole. These places are well served with specialist media, making the task of targeting such groups that much easier.

Having become a population in the millions with spending power in the billions, ethnic minorities are now being put under the microscope by market analysts.

Brent-based research agency Ethnic Focus recently conducted a survey of Asian consumers on behalf of

Sky TV.

Says director of research Saber Khan: “There are so many variations within ethnic groups, in terms of language, religion, culture and experience, that, by being focused on the bottom line, one gets a much better insight into the market and can develop an appropriate marketing strategy.”

Khan adds that, with one in ten of the population (and rising) now an ethnic minority, a marketing strategy that did not reflect the heterogeneity of society would produce very superficial results.

Ethnic Focus has undertaken national research into communication preferences among older ethnic people. Surprisingly, the findings show that they rejected ethnic-specific images as being tokenistic and are, in general, impressed less by image than substance.

Says Khan: “They’re saying, ‘What is the service promised? What is the price? That’s what’s important to us – not the colour of the skin on the advertisement.’”

Leicester’s Sabras Radio (“sab” means all, and “ras” means tastes in Hindustani, the lingua franca of the Asian community) has just recorded its best listening figures, with a 17.2 per cent share of the market. The station boasts 90-92 per cent penetration of the local Asian community, and the average listening time per week – at 22.1 hours – is the highest in the UK.

Managing director Don Kotak puts Sabras’ success down to both heightened interest among British Asians in the current political climate and the station’s policy of appealing to younger British Asians with more English music and programming, preventing the station from becoming “ghettoised”.

But he complains that single stations like his are being largely ignored by advertisers, adding: “Where mainstream media buyers are missing the trick is that they are working from very old-fashioned, standardised ways.

“For instance, we never have an ad from Pizza Hut or McDonald’s. Media buyers have failed to recognise that, because we have such a high penetration into the community, and the community spends very heavily in these establishments, a brand name needs to be pumped in more.

“The media buyer gets great value, especially on concentrated campaigns. There should be a pro rata presence on ethnic radio stations.”

The West Bromwich Building Society’s ethnic marketing activity recently won it the Most Innovative Marketing Campaign award from the Institute of Financial Services and a special Asian Achievement Award in Britain – usually only given to individuals – for its efforts on diversity. The society has also been shortlisted for the forthcoming Campaign for Racial Equality awards.

Head of relationship marketing Richard Purser chairs an ethnic working group, which was involved from the agency briefing stage.

He says: “That buy-in and involvement at the core from our staff within the community has been a key element. How will the ads work in practice? What questions are being asked? How can we make sure that the audience will relate to the advert? Everybody has the opportunity to contribute.”

The West Bromwich Building Society is the only UK mainstream lender that offers a mortgage compliant with Sharia’a law. The Manzil Home Purchase Plan, which is outsourced to Ahli United Bank (formerly the United Bank of Kuwait), is structured so that the customer does not pay interest – which is considered usury in Islam and is banned.

The Society captures each new customer’s preferred language at the account opening in order to make a good language skills match at customers’ local branches. It also checks census data to recruit the most suitable local staff.

Purser says that a customer Recommend A Friend programme, with a financial reward, has received far greater take-up than in the mainstream community.

He adds: “It is very cost-effective to target ethnic groups, compared with what you pay for mainstream distribution. You do not have to have big budgets to get big results.”

At the very least, ethnic marketing can be a minefield – easy as it is to offend both the majority and the minority.

Indeed, fear – of getting it wrong, as well as a general over-sensitivity – is one of the biggest things stopping companies marketing to the ethnic community, according to Anjna Raheja, managing director of London-based ethnic agency Media Moguls, whose clients have included Jaguar (grassroots community activity) and Virgin Atlantic (a direct mail campaign to launch routes to India).

Raheja says: “It’s easy to say, ‘We want to target the Asian community,’ but do people understand how diverse it is? Do they understand the differences between the African and the Caribbean communities? Their history and paths of migration are very different.

“Those are all reasons for the different behaviours now. They may not have language barriers, but they certainly have different aspirations, educational backgrounds and drivers to take things up.”

She adds that, as ethnic community members get older and have families, they begin to become more in tune with their native culture. Third generation minorities – the 18-to 25-year-olds – identify themselves as British-Asian, with a distinctly Asian heritage.

Says Raheja: “Right now, it’s very cool to be Asian. When I was growing up, I wanted to be white – desperately!”


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