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Missing opportunities

Advertisers are failing to target ethnic groups in favour of age, sex and disposable income, and need to wake up to the opportunities of the brown pound

A golf ball going into a holeAdvertisers are failing to target ethnic groups in favour of age, sex and disposable income, and need to wake up to the opportunities of the brown pound. Yet with growing immigration, the current ethnic 8 per cent of the population is set to rise.

Media agency Starcom's research backs this up. Out of nine typical campaigns aimed at 16 to 34-year-olds, it found that up to 20 per cent of coverage to Asian groups was lost, and approximately 6 per cent was lost to ethnic groups. The research also concluded that under-delivery was caused by a lack of sensitivity to different groups' programme preferences. Asian and black ethnic groups tended to watch more films instead of drama, while the black 16-34 audience watches twice as much music television as 16-34-year-olds on average.

Sara Bird of Swordfish Advertising agrees that advertisers are losing out to this section of the market. She says: Potentially advertisers are missing out, but as a whole this is still a small proportion. We should have already started considering whether separate strategies are required to more actively address this market depending on the product you are selling and the budget you have available to separate out your target markets.

Building awareness
More awareness about ethnic minority issues is needed within the marketing communications industry however, for without it how can advertisers make strategic decisions as to whether specific approaches are needed for these groups? Also, it is important to realise that the ethnic minority is in fact made up of hundreds of different cultural backgrounds and one answer will not fit all, stresses Bird.

Swordfish Advertising has not been turning a blind eye from it all though. The company has featured Asian models alongside Caucasian models, especially where the target patient group has a high proportion of sufferers from that ethnic background. Even ten years ago our cardiac ads often featured black models as this group is particularly prone to high blood pressure and other cardiac problems, explains Bird.

Besides this, the company has also translated accompanying patient literature into Urdu and Hindi, but found it very difficult to recruit Asian - particularly elderly female Asian - models or to find existing stock shots, as their cultural background may not encourage such a career.

Bird believes it's important to target the ethnic market because if the patients in the adverts remind a doctor of the patients they are most likely to see, the ads will have more resonance. In healthcare advertising, it's also important to consider that a high proportion of UK doctors have trained overseas.

A recent ad we created - that the client loved - was thrown out at the testing stage, when it transpired that Asian doctors did not understand the concept. This was because it was based on an old British children's game, highlighting the need for pan-cultural messages, continues Bird.

On the subject of under delivery meanwhile, Bird has her own opinion. I don't believe under delivery is really down to lack of sensitivity to different groups' programmes. If you were specifically targeting this group, then I believe you would research what media they consume as well as what messages are needed. Under delivery is probably far more related to not recognising these consumer groups and their specific needs in the first place.

Bird continues, saying that it's tempting to err towards political correctness and say that every campaign should target these groups, but with limited budgets it's impossible to do so. For smaller budgets, allotting a proportion for a relatively small and hard to target cultural group can be unrealistic - devising advertising that does not alienate such groups is more unrealistic. She adds that it's the Nike's and the Pepsi's of this world who should lead the way with products desirable for that market, and advertising that breaks down the barriers and really addresses people from different cultural backgrounds in proposition, tone and media.

Ethnic representation
But missing out on advertising to the ethnic market isn't the only opportunity the industry is losing. A recent census from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) shows that ethnic representation in agencies is 5.1 per cent. Of the 92 agencies out of the 237 targeted, 94.9 per cent of employees are white, 1.7 per cent are Asian and 1.9 per cent are black. Only 0.9 per cent of employees are of mixed origin and just 0.7 per cent of employees are from other backgrounds.

Commenting on these figures, Trevor Robinson, executive creative director of Quiet Storm and joint co-chairman of the IPA Ethnic Diversity Group says: These figures are only an indication of the true picture as less than half the agencies provided data. We need to educate and emphasise the importance of agencies reporting on their ethic intake. However, the fact that 11 per cent of delegates were non-white on the IPA training course for newcomers is testimony to the fact that the message is getting through.

An earlier IPA report also stated that the advertising industry must sell itself harder to attract more ethnic minority employees, which Bird agrees with entirely. She says: Advertising still has an image of being dominated by white, college-educated and often male high achievers - daunting and inaccessible to people from ethnic minorities.

The industry needs to look at qualities other than a red-brick university, Oxbridge qualification or other conventional background and to actively recruit people who don't fit the traditional agency mould. Bird adds that by taking such a stance, advertising could be more imaginative and culturally diverse as a result.

Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport agrees. In response to the IPA's online guide to ethnic diversity in the UK - which looks at the portrayal and employment of ethnic minorities in advertising - she says: It ought to be possible to make it in any creative field in the UK, regardless of creed and colour. People should be limited by nothing other than their ambition and talent. I hope that the IPA Ethnic Diversity Project Guide will assist marketing organisations in recruiting the best ethnic minority candidates and in producing campaigns that will speak to all communities.

Bird sums it up: Until the mix of ethnic minorities in the marketing departments and advertising agencies reflect those in the doctors' surgeries, it is unlikely that the ads will truly reflect the mix of people they are addressing.

The Author
Penny Palmer is editor of the Directory of Advertising Agencies

2nd September 2008

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