Monday, December 22, 2008

The Do's and Don'ts of Marketing to Minorities

We target senior citizens, we target teenagers, we target women. As marketing becomes increasingly targeted, how should industry professionals approach minority groups? I think it would be a gross oversight not to acknowledge minority groups as we would any other demographic or psychographic. We focus our attention on any other aspect that could connect a consumer to a brand. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population is the fastest growing minority group in the United States. The United States even has a larger Hispanic population than Spain. In the ever-present journey of staying relevant to the consumer, companies will be missing out by not appropriating attention and resources to minority groups. There are many ethical considerations when marketing to minority groups. Here are some best practice ideas and some embarrassing examples of ethically violating minority groups.

DOs: The US Small Business Association offers these tips for effectively involving a minority group

1. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all minorities are alike.
2. Learn as much as you can about your potential customer’s traditions and beliefs.
3. Be careful when translating English, especially slogans, into foreign languages.
4. Use the native language media of the group you want to attract –particularly in print media.
5. Have staff members who speak the language of the ethnic group or groups you are targeting, and make sure signs and fliers printed in the appropriate languages are displayed prominently in your establishment.
6. Reject stereotypes and cliches.
7. In the same vein, sharpen your sensitivity to cultural slurs or taboos.
8. If you can afford to hire a specialty advertising agency or marketing consultant, the money will be well spent.
9. Be prepared to “educate” your audience.
10. Finally, get involved with the minority community.

DON’Ts: Marketing to minorities gone bad

In 1989, the RJ Reynolds company introduced Uptown cigarettes as a menthol cigarette that would appeal “most strongly” to blacks. The American Cancer Society called them out as exploiting the black community, and Mary L. Clarke, a representative of the NAACP stated, “With the poor health among black folks today, we do not need anything else to cause even more health problems. R. J. Reynolds's targeting of blacks is unethical.”

Powermaster Malt Liquor is another dark spot in the history of ethical marketing campaigns. It was targeted to young African American men with G. Heileman Brewing Co. pushing it in predominantly black neighborhoods. The government ordered this one off the market, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms declaring that the use of the word “power” violated a law for brand names that promote strength. This reasoning makes me ask the question as to why Magnum and Colt 45 are acceptable brand names, but that is a blog for another day.

Subprime loans are made without regard for the borrow’s ability to repay the terms of the loan made to them. This type of predatory lending practice has been widely criticized for its targets in minority groups. In light of the historical claims of discrimination against minorities in the lending market, lenders have marketed loans to minorities under sub-prime programs. African Americans and Hispanics are reported to hold a disproportionate amount of these toxic loans – up to 3 times as many as Caucasians with comparable incomes. As if we needed another reason to feel disdain for the financial sector.

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