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Multicultural Clicks In

On the day she was named 2006 Ad Woman of the Year by the Chicago Advertising Federation, Fay Ferguson, co-CEO of Burrell Communications (Ad Age Multicultural Agency of the Year), took to the ad:tech Chicago stage. There, she shared some insights, exploded some myths and presented some case studies that illustrate best practices for reaching out to African American consumers.

Ferguson began at the beginning, defining the term "multicultural marketing" for the audience as, "specific and intentional efforts to market to each key ethnicity individually." She then went on to share some surprising statistics to underscore its importance, as well as case studies from her own agency's recent work.

What digital divide?
Multicultural efforts have been commonplace in traditional marketing channels for years. But African American and Hispanic consumers have been largely ignored by marketers online, due to the prevailing belief that their rates of internet and technology adoption lagged behind the general market. While that perception may have been accurate in years past, the surprising statistics presented by Ferguson prove that the digital divide is narrowing quickly-- and that multicultural consumers have surpassed the general market in some key metrics.

First, African American and Hispanic consumers' rate of internet usage is now nearly indistinguishable from that of the general population, at 80 percent (versus 88 percent in the general market). Moreover, they are actually ahead of the general market in some ways. For example, among teens ages 12 to 17, English-speaking Hispanics show the highest rate of internet use of all ethnicities at 89 percent. And African Americans are more likely than the general population to use a mobile device for internet access, to stream audio or video content online and to use the internet for research.

Having established the huge opportunity that marketers might miss out on by failing to engage these audiences, Ferguson then went on to showcase some of the most effective work that her own agency has done in the multicultural arena, particularly in efforts to reach African Americans.

Insights drive strategy
Ferguson presented case studies for four different clients: Lexus, McDonald's, Toyota and Verizon. Though the objectives were different for each, all demonstrated the key to successful multicultural marketing: It must be driven by culturally relevant insights.

The Lexus campaign, built to introduce the new GS series to an African American audience, drew on the insight that performance was key. An avatar-driven quiz emphasizing the auto's bold performance characteristics garnered an impressive 60 percent clickthrough rate.

For McDonald's, Burrell capitalized on the audience's heavy involvement with NBA basketball, delivering branded All-Star game content on BET.com. The content included All-Star updates, a sweepstakes and a branded game. Again, the results were enviable: an average visit to the McDonald's-branded content area lasted more than 20 minutes, and more than 37 percent of site visitors played the game for an average of 25 minutes each.

A Toyota campaign that was tightly integrated with TV and radio ads for the new Corolla S delivered equally extraordinary success metrics. By offering free music downloads and ringtones, as well as an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of broadcast spots featuring well-known recording artist Cee-Lo, Burrell's rich media ads brought in a nine percent clickthrough rate-- well above industry average.

But Ferguson's most memorable success story revolved around a marketing effort whose primary component wasn't even online. Appealing to African-Americans' entrepreneurial spirit, the Verizon Broadband "Realize" campaign placed an actual person in a real Philadelphia neighborhood storefront to start up a business with nothing but a table, a chair and a Verizon broadband connection. The ensuing PR buzz brought 10 million visitors to the realizephilly.com site and generated more than 1.5 billion consumer impressions overall. What's more, Verizon's sales objectives for the campaign were exceeded by 285 percent.

Not so fast
Though enthusiastic about multicultural marketing overall, Ferguson also sounded some notes of caution in response to audience questions. For one thing, she said, it's important to consult experts in the field before launching a multicultural campaign. She suggested that marketers find a specialist agency-- one that's experienced in conducting ethnographic-type research with their particular target market. In other words, "don't just base your campaign on hip-hop or basketball" and assume that you're going to connect with African Americans. "You have to study your consumer," said Ferguson. "And once you hit on one of those nuggets of insight, you know you’ve got it."

Justin Anderson is an integrated marketing copywriter living in Chicago, where he works for 141 Worldwide, a WPP agency. Read full bio.

Justin Anderson is an integrated marketing copywriter living in Chicago, where he works for 141 Worldwide, a WPP agency. Prior to 141 Worldwide, Anderson was a long-time writer at EarthLink. Prior to that he was a freelance online copywriter and...

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