Multicultural Marketing Malfeasance

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I heard one of those marketing claims the other day that sends the MarketingTeaParty-O-Meter into the red. Tweeting from a WOMMA conference, @chimoose related the following stat from a DePaul professor:

“Hispanics, African Americans and Asians represent 30% of the population and get about 2% of the marketing spend”

Two questions immediately came to mind: 1) How did the professor calculate that 2% of the “marketing spend” is directed at those ethnic groups? and 2) Why is she making this point in the first place?

The answer to the second question is potentially touchy, because there are times when someone makes a point like the one above with the intention of implying some kind of  bias or discriminatory behavior.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the case here — I think the professor is simply implying that marketers aren’t focusing on the right opportunities, or allocating their resources appropriately.

There’s a problem with that conclusion, though. Any categorical difference that you can define — whether it’s ethnic group, gender, age, income level, geography — is only a valid segmentation dimension if it is a strong (and better) predictor of needs and behaviors than other characteristics (which may include not just demographic factors, but attitudinal dimensions and other behaviors).

Is there any proof that ethnicity is a better predictor than other dimensions across a range of products (or even a single product category)? Don’t think so.

But I actually wouldn’t argue that some marketing targeted directly at specific ethnic groups is wrong. The more important question is: How much of the marketing budget should be allocated to ethnic-specific advertising or marketing? Should it be proportional to the ethnic group’s representation within the overall population?

I don’t see how you could create an argument to support a “yes” answer to the latter question. While the professor might not argue for that either, I don’t see how you can support an argument that any percentage of the total marketing spend is the right percentage.

But there’s a whole other issue we haven’t discussed here, and it relates to the first question I posed above: How does this professor know that 2% of marketing spending is directed towards the three ethnic groups listed?

Exactly what constitutes marketing or advertising directly to an ethnic group? Does an ad or commercial have to be in Spanish to be targeted to Hispanics? If a commercial includes a person of a particular ethnic background, is it — by definition — targeted at that ethnic group? If a commercial has a mix of ethnicities represented in the ad does that count in the 2% that the professor alludes to, or not?

Bottom line: Claiming that only 2% of the “marketing spend” is directed at Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians is simply not a valid, provable statement. Even worse, implying that the number should be higher — without any guidance as to how much higher — is simply bad advice.

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