Byline: Julee Greenberg

NEW YORK — Marketing products in the U.S. can be a tricky business, as companies need to learn how to target diverse groups that often have different cultural references and heritages.
To address this need, firms across all industries are using a wide range of strategies to tap into segments that until recently have often been ignored in mainstream marketing.
Research has shown that the growing influence of non-Caucasian consumers has boomed over the past 20 years. African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American consumers in the U.S. now represent a $1.14 trillion business opportunity, according to Donald Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the Don Coleman Advertising Group and ceo of New America Strategies Group.
In an article published in “The Source Book of Multicultural Experts,” Coleman wrote: “Corporate America is so focused on global expansion that many are overlooking expansion opportunities right under their noses.”
Between 1995 and 1998, spending by non-Caucasian consumers increased in relation to Caucasian-American consumers in many categories. While purchasing on cars, homes and personal categories all rose dramatically, the largest increase in purchasing by multicultural consumers occurred in the clothing category, gaining 39 percent.
Mindy Gale, president of the Gale Group, a public relations firm handling such clothing and fashion accounts as K-Swiss, Avirex and David Meister, said the first step in targeting a multicultural audience is to take a good look at the geographical location and the mind-set of the people in that area.
“When I think of New York City, I am thinking of a mix of people: African-American, Asian, Hispanic and so on,” she said. “Urban marketing means targeting all of these people.”
Gale said that when researching the urban market, she found that all races and ethnic groups are interested in prestige and are loyal to brands. Therefore, Gale makes sure the brands she is marketing are seen on the “right” people.
For example, she said, K-Swiss wants to market a “young urban audience.” So, she worked with the stylist for young rapper Lil’ Bow Wow, who sported a pair of custom-made studded K-Swiss sneakers during his performance with Madonna at this year’s Grammy Awards. Among her other clients, Avirex dresses celebrities like singers Method Man and Sisqo, as well as using Usher in a radio ad. Gale also said she likes to see the brands she represents have placement in movies targeted to specific groups.
“Casting the right people in our ads is very important,” Gale stressed. “The customer knows when we are not tapped into what they want. Authenticity really comes into place.”
Khalil Abdul-Karim, vice president of Dap Rugget, an urban clothing line, said his line appeals to customers who run the gamut from “skaters to thugs.” So he said he basically targets a “casual customer” who has broad appeal.
While a full women’s line has yet to be launched by the company, Abdul-Karim said there will be one in the future. For now, the men’s line has a smattering of tanks and baby T’s available for women. To market the line — and lure in the men — Abdul-Karim has introduced the “Dap Girls,” a group of women of different races featured in its print advertising.
“People tend to think of urban clothing as ‘clothing for black people,”‘ he said. “But this is not the case. I would love to feature an attractive Indian or Arab man in my ads, but the country just isn’t ready for that yet. I hope they will be in the future.”
Saul Gitlin, vice president of strategic marketing services at Kang & Lee, an advertising firm specializing in marketing to Asian-Americans, has worked with many clients, including Sears and Shiseido cosmetics.
“Studies have shown the heavy immigration of Asians to this country over the last 20 to 25 years,” Gitlin explained. “And there has been an explosive growth of media addressing these groups.”
Gitlin stressed the point that since many Asians come to this country without certain cultural prejudices, they are often easier to target with certain products.
For example, Oldsmobile has the reputation and slogan of being “your grandfather’s car” to American-born citizens, he said. However, to an Asian person moving to this country, they think of this car as a “great piece of American machinery,” Gitlin said.
“Since Oldsmobile is not widely advertised in Asian countries, they are not filled with these stereotypes,” he said.
As for fashion, Gitlin said he has heard from Asian consumers who say they have difficulty with fit. Since Asian women tend to have different body types than the average American adult female, companies that want to target Asian-Americans must do so in a clear way, he said.
“They may like the fashions they see, but they are not going to buy it without the fit,” he added.
For FuMan Skeeto, an 18-month-old casual girls’ clothing line developed by Chris Kirkpatrick, a member of boy band ‘N Sync, multicultural marketing is of great importance.
“While our customers are ‘N Sync fans, there are also customers who are not,” said Danielle Raabe, president of the company. “So, we try to market to all girls.”
Raabe said the company markets the brand in many ways. When Kirkpatrick was featured on ABC-TV’s “The View” last February, he sent a runway full of multicultural models down the catwalk. Raabe also noted a variety of advertising in the works, starting with TV spots in Canada when the brand launches with Eaton’s department stores and print ads in teen and sport magazines.
PepsiCo Inc. has been a pioneer in multicultural marketing, having started in the early Seventies. The company has a department that focuses specifically on that task.
“We target mainly African-Americans and Hispanics, with some Asians mixed in,” said Charlee Taylor-Hines, director of urban and ethnic marketing at the company. “Our target age is 12 to 21 years old with a bull’s-eye on 18.”
Taylor-Hines said the company conducts a variety of different research techniques so it can find the ideal consumer for each of its target groups. It holds focus groups and surveys, and even partakes in the anthropological practice of ethnography.
“We have researchers living with particular groups of people and have them keep diaries of what they are drinking,” she explained of the innovative strategy, using an example of a study on a group of Latinos in Los Angeles.
Taylor-Hines stressed three important ways to gauge consumer reaction to the brand. First, the company has to use conventional sources of research, including focus groups and surveys. Then the firm should gather consumer insights that are proprietary. Finally, the company must use the media as a source to get the message out there — whether that means using record labels, the Internet or magazine advertising.
“I advertise in magazines and newspapers, which hit the heart of certain ethnic consumers,” she said mentioning publications such as Vibe, XXL, Code, Essence, Urban Latino and Ebony.
Taylor-Hines mentioned that Pepsi features many different celebrities in its television advertising. While Britney Spears, the latest celebrity to star in its ads, helps Pepsi tap into a large multicultural market, the company also concentrates on more specific ethnic groups. For example, Busta Rhymes appears as the spokesman for its Mountain Dew brand, and Mary J. Blige and Sisqo also appear in Pepsi commercials.
“Whenever a celebrity is featured in our ads, we also sponsor their tours,” Taylor-Hines said.
“An important thing to remember when marketing to an ethnic group is that brands are a huge part of their lifestyle,” she said. “Therefore, it’s very important for us to stay on top of the trends and to use innovative and creative ways of marketing.”