North America has been viewed as a melting pot of peoples, cultures, ideas and immigrants from every corner of the planet. But today, the buzzwords are different. Many leading marketers are now saying that the continent is more like a ‘salad bowl’ of sorts. We exist in a society of distinct cultures, each with a truly unique world. Every individual and family that is personified in this bowl touches and shapes the lives of people around them. This is why North America can be a marketer’s dream or its worst nightmare.
In the U.S., the three largest ethnic communities are Asian Pacific-Americans, Latinos and African-Americans. Together, they have a combined purchasing power that exceeds US$1.5 trillion per annum. And collectively, they represent better opportunities for increasing revenue than other North American market segments.
While savvy media buys in community publications and on niche TV networks such as BET can help marketers reach such communities, you can’t make the sale without creative that rings true with cultural groups. Pulling this off can be a tough task for creatives used to aiming for white, middle-class Americans, but taking a little time to meet ethnic communities on their own turf can go a long way.
This was evident in a campaign we worked on for a pizza company that wanted to market its products to Asians. In focus group sessions, many recent Asian immigrants said they didn’t care for the taste of pizza. They disliked the smelly cheeses, processed meats and chewy crusts that other Americans love about pizza. The only way these Asian consumers would try pizza was when their children complained that they were tired of Asian foods. ‘Asian parents want to please their children,’ notes my associate, Robert Park, senior VP of Imada Wong. ‘They will literally do anything to ensure that their children have everything that America has to offer, including fast food. And once they try pizza, they discover that it’s quite delicious.’ He adds that Asian kids acculturate faster than their parents do and are willing to try new things.
The response garnered just by advertising in an ethnic group’s language and using actors from that community is amazing, but to be truly successful, the creative has to reflect both the cultural traditions immigrants import from their homelands and kids’ desire to fit in and immerse themselves in mainstream American culture.
For instance, several years ago, a marketer wishing to reflect the home life of Japanese kids might have shown the kids eating in silence, with the father at the head of the table and the mother in the kitchen. Today, showing a more informal, chatty family with everyone taking part in the conversation would be more effective. The former spot might more accurately portray the home life of traditional Japanese families, but taking Japanese actors and producing a more ‘American-style’ scenario would be more compelling because it shows what Japanese-American kids want meals to be like.
Fortunately for advertisers not wanting to produce a dozen different spots to reach different segments of the market, ‘American style’ has been influenced so much by the African-American and Hispanic cultures that on certain fronts, such as music and fashion, such cultures are the mainstream. Most kids, including children from ethnic communities, are heavily influenced by urban, hip-hop culture. African-Americans have succeeded in capturing the attention of youth all over North America, leading the charts in many areas of entertainment. You clearly see it in the clothes they wear, in the music they consume, and in the television programs they watch. Such blending of cultures has reached the point where a creative choosing music for an ad directed at Asian kids would have more success with rap than music from Japan.
‘African-Americans are hot, hip, cool, fashionable and funky,’ says Kim L. Hunter, president of Lagrant Communications, a firm that promotes the African-American market to corporations and governmental agencies. ‘Kids want to be all of that. That’s why I’m always amazed that no matter where I travel, whether it is to Seattle, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles, African-American kids truly have had a visible impact on American culture.’
African-Americans aren’t the only ones having an impact on the youth scene. Hispanic influence, particularly in major cities such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles, is also growing among today’s kids. Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony, both former members of the popular 80s band Menudo, have become teen idols almost overnight, while Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera are household names all across the continent with kids and teenagers. According to Rebecca Loehr, director of SLAM Youth Marketing in New York, a division of BSMG Worldwide, Latin music will remain hot in the new millennium.
‘It’s accurate to say that Latin artists like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez are completely hot with teens across the board,’ says Loehr. ‘When you look at their music, it’s actually a blend of Latin inspiration and pop rock. The news media dubbed Latin music the heat wave in 1999, and we’ll see that continue this year.’ This blend of Hispanic, African-American and Asian influences are important considerations for all marketers to consider when targeting kids and teens.
Ray Durazo, president of Durazo Communications, an L.A.-based Hispanic marketing communications firm, is quick to offer prospective marketers advice about reaching ethnic kids-particularly Hispanics. ‘When marketing to Hispanic kids, it’s necessary to acknowledge their ethnicity without making it the exclusive premise of your marketing message,’ advises Durazo. ‘This can be done by simply using Hispanic images or by sprinkling Spanish or English-Spanish terms into the marketing message.’ Durazo used a recent ad created by soft drink marketer Mountain Dew to illustrate his point. According to Durazo, the ad’s announcer suggests that their youthful consumers ‘Toma this’ (literally ‘drink this’) in commercials targeting Hispanic kids. Durazo believes that this blend of languages is a clear indication that some marketers recognize that kids are bicultural and accept messages that are diverse in nature.
Mercedes Cubas, director of public relations at Siboney USA, a leading Hispanic marketing communications firm, says that because of this biculturalism, marketers can reach Hispanic kids through English-language as well as Spanish-language television programming that targets them. ‘Hispanic children are heavily exposed to general market television, even though they live in two worlds, one world at a time,’ offers Cubas. She asserts that many Hispanic kids reside in the ‘outside world’ part of the time and in the ‘inside world’ the other part of the time. In essence, these kids serve as ‘vehicles’ that bring the outside influences into Hispanic households, exposing parents, grandparents and other siblings to the latest trends and ideas. ‘But it doesn’t stop there,’ says Cubas. ‘Hispanic kids are also impacted at their very core by the cultural and familial values that are transmitted to them by their parents, grandparents and extended family.’
Like Asian and African-American parents, Hispanic parents don’t always understand the latest and greatest fads in entertainment, but they all have one important thing in common: A keen interest in providing the best things for their kids. For immigrant parents, this need to provide for the well being of their children is even more acute. Cubas reflects on the Pokémon game and trading card phenomenon that is the latest craze among kids and teenagers. ‘Hispanic parents don’t understand or relate to the latest craze in toys and entertainment, but they feel proud that their kids are able to do what other kids are doing,’ notes Cubas.
Blending cultural fragments is an effective way to reach kids of all cultures, but SLAM’s Rebecca Loehr warns marketers not to lump kids together as if they’re all the same. ‘All kids do not process information in the same way,’ says Loehr. ‘Many outside factors, including where they live and who they hang out with, contribute to what kids decide to emulate and which trends they decide to adopt.’
Creatives have to understand that the members of the Latino community in Miami, for instance, have a strong local culture and speak and dress differently than Latinos in other parts of the U.S. Similarly, African-Americans in Los Angeles have a very different cultural experience than those in Atlanta. Lumping all the members of a diverse cultural group together can backfire, as one marketer that used the word ‘nieve’ in an ad directed at Hispanics discovered: While Mexicans correctly interpreted the word as ‘ice cream’-to Cubans the word means ‘snow’ or ‘ice.’
Bill Imada is the president and chief executive officer of Imada Wong Communications Group in Los Angeles.