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Innovation, espace et culture dans le monde anglo-saxon

Marketers as Innovators: how ethnic marketing revisits ethnicity

Marketing ethnique et innovation aux États-Unis
Marie-Christine Pauwels
p. 234-254

Résumé

L’innovation aux États-Unis est ici vue sous un angle social et culturel. Il ne s’agit plus d’étudier l’innovation technologique, mais l’innovation en matière de produit. L’article aborde la création de valeur à travers la variable ethnique dans le domaine de la vente, du marketing et de la publicité. Les nouvelles tendances en matière d’ethno-marketing sont analysées, en particulier la manière dont les professionnels utilisent la notion d’ethnicité pour vendre des produits de consommation courante à un marché de consommateurs de plus en plus exigeants, soit en ayant recours à une segmentation de ces consommateurs en micro-marchés toujours plus étroits, soit en privilégiant un marketing multi- ou trans-culturel.

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Texte intégral

1In the saturated American consumer society, manufacturers must resort to innovative marketing campaigns in order to attract buyers to the goods or services they sell. Their goal is to beat the information overload people are bombarded with every day, to angle their sales pitch so that it will strike a chord with consumers and build their long-term loyalty. Thousands of new products are indeed regularly churned out onto the market, as Jim Bessen already acknowledged more than ten years ago in the Harvard Business Review:

  • 1  Jim Bessen, “Riding the Marketing Information Wave”, Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct. 1993, vol. (...)

Consider the retail food industry. The average grocery store now stocks around 20,000 items, with larger stores carrying two or three times that amount. Around 10,000 new items are introduced each year. The average supermarket now carries roughly twice the number of items it carried ten years ago. Given the enormous variety of weights, flavors, colors, and sizes, the total number of stockkeeping units at a supermarket may run to several hundred thousand.1

  • 2  Marye C. Tharp, Marketing and ConsumerIdentity in Multicultural America. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publi (...)
  • 3  Susan Fournier, “Consumers and their Brands : Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research  (...)

2In terms of innovation, economic value or technology and performance are no longer sufficient per se. Companies must meet both the economic and cultural needs of buyers. “To succeed today, marketers must build long-term growth from shared interests with consumers”.2 Research conducted in the late nineties at the Harvard Business School in Boston showed how consumers react to brands as real “relationship partners” that can help them resolve or address important personal issues. They bond with the brands they buy, and even develop feelings of nostalgic attachment, intimacy, love/passion or interdependency.3 Companies are no longer simply selling products or services, but concepts and lifestyles.  Consider the following examples.

3Borders and Barnes & Nobles turned bookselling into a completely new experience, complementing the pleasure of home reading (cosy corners with leather armchairs, bar counters and coffee shops) with extended choice, longer opening hours, a competent sales force and low prices. These companies are no longer selling mere books; they are selling the pleasure of reading, an environment conducive to reading and a lifestyle. Because they worked on value innovation, in less than six years, both rose to the top of their sector.

  • 4  Cited in Stuart Elliott, “The Challenge of Getting Shoppers to Try the Untried is the Final Focus (...)
  • 5  Howard Shultz, Pour Your Heart Into It. New York : Hyperion, 1997, 5.

4Starbucks also added emotional value to a commonplace beverage (coffee), by working on atmosphere. People are made to feel at home and in the mood to spend some quality time, drinking a sophisticated drink and listening to mellow jazz music in elegant surroundings. Scott Bedbury, Starbucks’ marketing vice-president, admitted that consumers don’t see a big difference between products, and for that reason, brands must “establish emotional ties” with their customers.4 Hence the “Starbucks’ experience”. CEO Howard Shultz added that “it’s the romantic side of a coffee drinking experience, a feeling of warmth and community that people find in a Starbucks’ coffee”.5

5On the other hand, Nike made a major mistake in 1998, by focusing all its marketing efforts on the superior R&D of its hi-tech sneakers. It misinterpreted the impact of the retro wave that drew consumers away from high performance shoes to buy low-tech, fabric-made shoes from other shoemakers like Converse in record numbers. Its sales plummeted.

  • 6  Naomi Klein, No Logo. London: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
  • 7  <www.hallmark.com>.

6Marketing departments thus create a commercial “mythology” around a simple consumer product, what Naomi Klein refers to as “branding”.6 Sales pitches are now often built around nostalgia (Volkswagen’s “New Beetle” for instance), tradition, ecological concerns (ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s), longing for a mythical homeland, etc. Corporate policies, i.e. how a company deals with such issues as human rights, the environment, philanthropy or diversity issues. have also become relevant in determining why consumers will purchase one brand and discard another. Hallmark, the n°1 gift card seller in the United States (close to 50 % of the market), does a great deal more than sell greeting cards; it also helps fight hunger, strives to eradicate illiteracy, encourages charitable giving and volunteer work, helps the unemployed, supports supplier diversity programs, etc. Its mission statement is explicit: “supporting our community” is touted as a major goal.7

7Thus, firms increasingly develop a form of relationship marketing and innovate by expressing values that will resonate with consumers.

  • 8  Marye C. Tharp, Marketing and ConsumerIdentity in Multicultural America,op.cit., 2.

8The act of buying is also a way for people to express their ethnic identities. In the United States perhaps more than anywhere else, ethnicity is another salient feature for marketers, as “marketing and consuming assume more visible, pervasive, and prescriptive roles in a multicultural society”.8

9This article will examine how leading consumer goods companies devise innovative advertising and marketing strategies that capitalize on the ethnic and cultural diversity of American society to endow their products with an added emotional value.

From segmented to diversity marketing

  • 9  Joseph Turow, “Breaking up America: The Dark Side of Target Marketing”, American Demographics, 199 (...)

10Ethnic marketing goes back at least to the early decades of the 20th century. Each new immigrant wave led to the development of clearly identifiable products, usually commercialized via narrow, even confidential distribution networks, specialty shops, “ethnic corners” inside stores, etc.. But representations of ethnic or racial minorities as consumers were still rare. Ethnicity was not seen as compatible with modernity, success and assimilation. Instead, it was associated with poverty, backwardness and unsophistication. It was used as a foil, to emphasize the contrast between an immigrant’s bleak past and his bright American future. Minorities, when pictured in commercials, were set in the background, as stereotyped and flat characters. Ethnic goods were not targeted at the general market. At the beginning of the 1920s, manufacturers attempted to create slightly different versions of the same product to cater to different customer segments. This gave birth to product differentiation.9 The best known example of this trend was General Motors which priced its models (“Chevrolet”, “Pontiac”, “Buick”, “Cadillac”) differently and advertised to buyers with different incomes. Market segmentation was born.

11Ethnic marketing really took off in the late forties and grew tremendously after World War II. Statistical tools were developed and refined, and the computer age gave marketing departments new expertise to cross different demographic, geographic, and behavioral data.

  • 10  Milton M. Gordon, “The Subsociety and the Subculture”, in D. Arnold (ed.) Subcultures, Berkeley: G (...)

12In the seventies, at a time when ethnicity was becoming a major yardstick of social identity, segmented marketing was developed, focusing on the most visible ethnic and religious categories (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, etc.).10 Ethnic publications, such as Black Enterprise (1968) were launched. Buying ads in ethnic newspapers and space on ethnic radio stations, using billboards in ethnic neighborhoods, making sure products were available at the local neighborhood store became widespread strategies. Since then, most manufacturing giants have devised lines of products geared toward minority groups. Hallmark, for instance, sells the “Mahogany” line for the African-American marketwith a choice of over 800 sorts of cards for all kinds of occasions, the “Tree of Life” line for the Jewish community and the “Sinceramente” line for Hispanics. Likewise, to appeal to the Hispanic market, Häagen-Dazs offers its dulce de leche ice cream, inspired by a popular South American caramel dessert (fig. 1).

13Another example is that of toymaker Mattel which released its first black doll, a friend of Barbie’s christened “Christie”, in 1968 (fig. 2) The first authentic black “Barbie” was created in 1980 (fig. 3), together with a Latino version (fig. 4). An Oriental looking doll followed one year later (fig. 5). Finally, a Native American “Barbie” was released in 1993 (fig. 6). In the nineties, the company launched a highly successful “go ethnic” marketing plan whose sales results doubled within a year.  Developing ethnic lines is a very profitable strategy and countless similar examples abound. McDonald’s, KFC, Disney, ATT, Bank of America, even the US Postal Service all have ad campaigns and products targeted at minority consumer groups.

  • 11  Cf. Marilyn Halter, Shopping for Identity: the Marketing of Ethnicity. New York: Schocken Books, 2 (...)

14Endowing mass market consumer goods with an ethnic value is a strategy that comes in many shapes and sizes. Realizing that one could buy Jewish wines and Jewish food but no Jewish beer, a young entrepreneur from San Francisco founded the “Schmaltz Brewing Company” in 1996 and sold his product under the name “He’brew, the chosen beer” (fig. 7). The first brew, “Genesis beer”, was quickly followed by “Messiah Stout”, “the beer you’ve been waiting for” (fig. 8). Success in this tremendously glutted market came both from the fact that Jews had never been specifically targeted for beer sales, and because of the ethnic humor.11 Today, the Chosen beers are distributed in major liquor stores all over the country.

15In recent years, this segmenting of the minority consumer market has become more and more sophisticated and complex. Thanks to new performing tools and data processing techniques such as data-mining for instance, brands are now able to reach consumer segments –niches– that have become narrower and narrower (instead of addressing the Hispanic market as a whole, marketers in Florida may find it more profitable to address Cuban-Americans, whereas those in Los Angeles will direct their sales pitch at the Mexican-American consumers. In a similar example, Hallmark offers a choice of 28 different cards tailor-made for African-American graduates alone, including one especially targeted at graduates of historically black colleges and universities).

  • 12  Translated in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat yo (...)

16Campaigns have also become more subtle, more attuned to the particular sensibilities of each community, as businesses try to cash in on the current ethnic revival under way in the United States. The key to making an authentic connection goes beyond the simple use of specific language and pictures in advertising. It means trust building and taking customers from minority groups seriously. Translating ads into Spanish or Chinese is no longer sufficient for instance. Marketing textbooks are full of embarrassing translation errors and blunders made by unsuspecting advertisers when trying to break into a foreign-language market.12

  • 13  Minority Business Development Agency, Minority Purchasing Power: 2000-2045, Washington DC: U.S. De (...)
  • 14   For a detailed breakup of figures by minority group, cf the following sources: “The Buying Power (...)
  • 15  <www.yankelovich.com>, consulted in July 2005.

17Reasons for this evolution are demographic and economic. In 2005, ethnic minority groups made up almost 30 % of the American population and will probably account for halfby 2050. As of 2000, ethnic consumers already averaged $1.3 trillion in purchasing power.13 This figure is expected to exceed $1.5 trillion somewhere between 2030 and 2045 ($456 billion in 1990).14 And when minority Americans shop, their buying decisions are influenced by how a company treats them, involves itself in their communities and portrays them in advertising. According to the Yankelovich Marketing Group, which is the leading authority in the field and has been conducting a yearly “Multicultural Marketing Study” since 2003, 68 % of African Americans, compared to 46 % of non-Hispanic whites, say how a store treats customers based on race is extremely important in deciding where to shop.15 Since 88 % of African Americans say discrimination is still a part of most African Americans’ day-to-day lives, they are extremely sensitive to race and discrimination issues.

  • 16  Marcus Mabry, “A Long Way from Aunt Jemima” Newsweek, August 14, 1989, 34-35.

18To respond to these increasingly demanding consumers, companies work on building relevant cultural images, erasing bias and stereotypes. The “Aunt Jemima” character on packets of Quaker Oats cereals and pancake mix is a good case in point (fig. 9): this plump, bandanna-clad black mammy went through several transformations, first in the sixties when the bandanna, which symbolized slavery to some people, became a headband; then in 1989, when the character was given a full makeover. She became slimmer and was given permed hair and pearl earrings to reflect a more professional image (fig. 10-11). Another famous stereotype,  the “Frito Bandito” Mexican bandit character with a sombrero, a gun and a sinister smile used by Frito-Lay to sell its corn chips was dropped in 1971 (fig. 12).16

  • 17  Laurel Wentz, “Bank of America Goes Multicultural”, Advertising Age, April 4 2002, vol. 73, no. 15 (...)

19In the same vein, Bank of America quadrupled its multicultural marketing budget to more than $40 million in 2002 and released a series of commercials targeted at Asian consumers that were shot in China, Korea, and Vietnam, and retraced the immigrant’s journey, with many metaphors and much nostalgia. In one spot, a boy was shown teaching his younger brother to ride a bike in his homeland and the commercial drew a parallel with the bank’s helping hand today. To make the ad feel authentic, the bike was not an American kid’s bicycle but the exact sort an Asian child would learn to ride.17

A radical innovation

20While all these examples illustrate a form of continuous innovation, with changes that are mostly incremental, at the same time, ethnic marketing has also undergone a more radical break with the past. Since the late eighties approximately, it has also been focusing on similarities, cross-cultural influences, common traits between different ethnic groups and communities in order to sell both to ethnic consumer segments, but also, more importantly, to the general market as well. Hyper-segmented ethnic marketing is now compounded with what experts call diversity marketing.

21Why this evolution? Part of the answer is that, like Aunt Jemima, ethnicity has undergone a makeover in the past decades. Once associated with the lifestyle of the underclass, it has become trendy and chic, and is now being “mainstreamed” by brands that are using the concept as a selling argument to the general market. The fearthat associating a product with ethnic minorities might alienate white patrons no longer exists. Quite the opposite in fact. Ethnicity has become a commercial gold mine and using ethnic celebrities in advertising, thanks to “crossover ads” has become commonplace.

22The best example is Coca-Cola’s famous 1980 “Hey, Kid” commercial which showed big bulky football star  Joe Greene (nicknamed “Mean Joe”) giving his shirt at the end of a game to a disbelieving white kid who had just offered the thirsty, and at first reluctant, black giant his bottle of Coke (fig. 13). The ad is built on the sharp contrasts between pent-up violence and innocence, and the (fake) transgression of racial codes. It proved to be such a hit that the whole marketing profession followed suit, paving the way for all sorts of  partnerships between brands and ethnic celebrities (Michael Jackson/Pepsi, Michael Jordan/Nike, Whitney Houston/Coke, Queen Latifah/Cover Girl, Halle Berry/Revlon, the Williams sisters/Avon, Beyonce Knowles/ l’Oréal, etc.). Moreover, such ads were run during prime-time network television, and not during a show on Black Entertainment Television or another ethnic-oriented network.

  • 18 Leon Wynter, American Skin. Pop Culture, Big Business and the End of White America. New York: Crown (...)

23Similarly, when brewer Anheuser-Busch released what came to be known as the “Whassup!” ad for Budweiser beer in 1988, this also struck a chord with buyers. No celebrities this time, but simply four black buddies sprawled on a couch watching a game on TV, doing nothing in particular and exchanging meaningless banter (“Ay, who, whassup? Nothin’, watchin’ the game, havin’ a Bud. Whassup wit’chu? Nothin’, watchin’ the game, havin’ a Bud. True, true”).18 This widely popular commercial, one of the first to acknowledge Blacks as generic American buyers of mass consumer goods, gave birth to countless funny spinoffs and parodies on the Web especially.

  • 19  Cf. Christopher John Farley, “Hip-hop Nation”, Time, February 8, 1999.

24In the apparel sector, Tommy Hilfiger was the first to use the selling potential of Blacks, followed by Fila, Nautica, Fubu, etc.. Even Ralph Lauren, the paragon of the Anglo look, hired black supermodels Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford as part of his Polo Sport Line ad  campaign in 1993 (fig. 14). All the leading brands that target younger generations have now developed cross-ethnic marketing campaigns. These appeal to a generation of young people raised in a popular culture in which major entertainers, athletes, musical artists and fashion trendsetters now often come from minority groups.19 Also emblematic of this trend was the famous “Got Milk” campaign of the American dairy industry which had celebrities pictured with a milk mustache (fig. 15-16).

  • 20  For a good picture of the emergence of this trend, cf. Paulette Thomas, “Minority Businesses Incre (...)
  • 21  Cf. DSN Retailing Today, January 10 2005, vol. 44, no. 1, 23.

25Creative marketers even go further and come up with varieties whose ethnic roots are sometimes difficult to identify. This identity scrambling game is widespread among food manufacturers. “Earthy Delights”, for instance, a supplier of specialty foods, markets aThai Jungle Salsa, which combines the culinary traditions of Mexican and Thai cuisines and blends ingredients such as roasted chili peppers, grilled onions and soy sauce (fig. 17).20 Heinz, the famous ketchup maker, sells unleavened kosher taco shells and kosher chili sauce among its other varieties, blending the culinary traditions of the Jewish community and those of Latinos. This reflects the growing popularity of “fusion food” or “world food”, which mixes different culinary techniques, ingredients and presentations from several cultures or countries in a single dish at the risk of diluting or even adulterating cultural traditions. The proliferation of multicultural ethnic cookbooks since the 1980s is also symptomatic of this new trend.21

  • 22  Michael Solomon, Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being. 3rd ed, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prenti (...)

26The “separate-but-equal selling” focused on clearly defined ethnic customer segments is thus now increasingly compounded with diversity, or transcultural marketing. This new trend blends and recombines cultural codes with a view to addressing both ethnic and mainstream consumers alike. Marketers cash in on the “browning of America” theme. They know that endowing their wares with an ethnic value, even if it means creating a new blend of ethnicity, is popular with consumers of all ethnic backgrounds, including Americans of European descent commonly referred to as “Anglos”. Interestingly, focus group data revealed that those who were the most interested in “Common Threads”, the cross-cultural line of cards developed by Hallmark to complement its ethnic collections, were white or Caucasian consumers who appreciate cultural diversity. It is also a well-known fact that around 75 % of black and Hispanic hip-hop music CDs are bought by white teenagers. By the same token, marketing studies show that most of those who buy kosher products are in fact non-Jews. According to researcher Michael Solomon, out of the 6 million kosher product consumers in the US today, two thirds are non-Jews. They like kosher goods, especially health-conscious consumers who associate them with higher quality and purity.22  Some manufacturers target vegeterians, even Muslim consumers, and innovative varieties such as kosher gazpacho or kosher taco shells can now be found on the market.

27This cross-cultural approach has spread to ethnic marketing consulting groups themselves. For example, Hispanics and Asians now have their own common agency, created in 1984, the Hispanic & Asian Marketing Communication Research (now called Cheskin Research).

  • 23  Jean-Paul Tréguier, Jean-Marc Ségati, Les nouveaux marketings, Paris : Dunod, 2005, 10.
  • 24  Richard Melcher, “United Colors of Miller: It’s Ditching Ethnic Marketing for Cross-Cultural Ads”, (...)

28The rise in new biracial or transracial consumer groups may also explain the rise of transcultural marketing campaigns. In the 2000 population census, 6.8 million Americans self-identified as belonging to more than one racial group and rates of intermarriage and of people of mixed ancestry have increased tremendously. Ethno-racial lines are slowly blurring. It’s the “Tiger Woods” phenomenon (Tiger Woods is of mixed Caucasian, black, Asian and Indian blood and calls himself “Cablinasian”). At issue also is the arrival on the market of younger generations of ethnic consumers, especially Blacks and Latinos, who view ethnicity differently. Marketing segmented according to ethnic criteria works well mostly with the first immigrant generation. With the second and third, cultural codes tend to intermingle with those of the mainstream and age often supplants ethnicity as a relevant yardstick for segmentation.23“There are no more boundaries. The common denominator is youth, not ethnic background”.24

  • 25  Cf. Yankelovich Joins Forces with Cheskin and Images USA to Study Multicultural Marketing, June 18 (...)

29This evolution is fairly recent. A telltale landmark was the release in 2003 of the first “Multicultural Marketing Study” by the Yankelovich marketing consultancy to advise businesses how to best target multicultural consumers. According to J. Walker Smith, president of the agency, “we no longer view the marketplace simply in terms of separate ethnic target groups. Our clients are turning to us not only for help in understanding Hispanic and African American consumers, but also to determine the opportunity represented by viewing the marketplace from a multicultural perspective”.25

  • 26  Pascal G. Zachary, The Global Me: Mongrel Capitalism and the Competitive Advantage of Nations. DC: (...)

30In keeping with Pascal Zachary’s “mongrelization” theory, to win in the global economy takes a commitment to mixing people, experiences, and ideas, and companies that embrace diversity to stimulate creativity will be the ones that own the future.26

Future evolution of ethnic marketing

  • 27 Cited in Rob Walker, “Whassup, Barbie?”, op.cit.

31Marilyn Halter, a Boston University sociologist, perfectly sums up the new dilemma faced by ethnic marketers today: “Which makes more business sense? To mount separate promotions and campaigns for each ethnic market? Or to try to develop advertising and media that will be able to grab all the diversity – a kind of mosaic marketing”?27

  • 28  Marye C. Tharp, Marketing and ConsumerIdentity in Multicultural America,op.cit., 13.
  • 29  Joseph Turow, ‘Breaking up America: The Dark Side of Target Marketing’, op.cit., 51-54.
  • 30 Geng Cui, “Marketing Diversity and Cost-effective Marketing Strategies”, Journal of Consumer Market (...)
  • 31 Ibidem.

32No simple answer exists, and the issue at stake becomes how best to combine both trends so as to reach the most cost-effective results. Some brands will want to retain the separate-but-equal approach: for instance, Coors Co., ranked third in the brewing industry, ramped up its ethnic marketing. Anheuser-Busch, the industry leader, actually increased its Spanish-language ads. Others, however, believe that diversity marketing is the way of the future because it is in sync with the increasing cross-cultural influences that permeate the American society. It is also a response to the over-segmentation of consumer markets that creates a risk of “ethnic overkill”. Too much fragmentation can indeed be confusing for consumers. Marketing specialist Marye C. Tharp speaks of the “twilight” of ethnic market segmentation.28 And Joseph Turow already warned in 1997 that “in the next century, it is likely that media formats and commercials will reflect a society so fragmented that the average person will find it impossible to know or care about more than a few of its parts”.29 Moreover, to some marketing experts, this over-segmentation is costly and not necessarily justified.30 At Avon, for instance, several studies and focus groups showed that colored women were not particularly drawn to “ethnic” cosmetics and preferred lines that address women in general. This is also why Coca-Cola dropped its ethnic marketing department in 1997. That same year, Miller Brewing Co. disbanded its ethnic marketing team to develop ads and special events that try to cut across all cultural groups. The brewer reckoned it would save about $5 million off its $200 million media budget by producing fewer ads and saving on duplicate marketing costs. Both beverage giants switched their strategy to a cross-cultural approach, playing on the similarities of their consumer targets instead of their differences. And both reported cost-effective results.31 In 2004, Sears Roebuck & Co. also shut down its multicultural unit and merged its operations into its general marketing department.

  • 32   Cited in Rob Walker, “Whassup, Barbie?”, The Boston Globe, January 12 2003, D1.

33Yet other brands carry the two strategies together. Hallmark, as mentioned earlier, released its “Common Threads” cross-cultural line of cards in 1997. And Mattel also jumped on the diversity bandwagon by putting cross-cultural“Barbie” dolls on the market in 2002 (“Kayla”, “Madison” and “Chelsea” in particular) with features that make them less ethnically identifiable (fig. 18-19). According to a company’s spokeswoman, this ethnic vagueness is an advantage as it enables little girls to pick and choose the identity they prefer:“You could look at “Kayla” and she could look Native American, she could look Puerto Rican, she could look anything. […] You see “Madison” and she could be African American, or she could be Hispanic. Same thing with “Chelsea”; it’s a little bit ambiguous”.32

  • 33  Laurel Wentz, “Multicultural Issue Divides Ad Industry”, Advertising Age, August 23 2004, vol. 75, (...)

34A 2004 Advertising Age online poll showed just how divided the profession remains: 58 % of the respondents agreed that maintaining segregated ethnic marketing departments was both logical and profitable, against 42 % who disagreed.33 Most believed that a separate multicultural marketing unit was a good idea for companies just starting more diverse marketing, but that in an ideal world such a unit would become unnecessary.

An “idealized” ethnicity

35Whether marketers favor a segmented or a cross-cultural approach, innovating by stamping a product with an “ethnic” value raises a set of interesting questions as to the type of ethnicity that is portrayed and sold.

  • 34  Rohit Deshpande, Wayne D. Hoyer, Naveen Donthu, “The Intensity of Ethnic Affiliation: A Study of t (...)
  • 35 Elizabeth C. Hirschman, “American Jewish Ethnicity: Its Relationship to Some Selected Aspects of Co (...)
  • 36  Tommy E. Whitler, Roger J. Calantone, Mark R. Young, “Strength of Ethnic Affiliation: Examining Bl (...)
  • 37  Herbert Gans,  “Symbolic Ethnicity; the Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America”, Ethnic a (...)

36Since the early work of Max Weber (1961), “ethnicity” has implied several dimensions including a sense of common descent beyond kinship, political solidarity in front of other groups, common customs, language, religion, values, morality and etiquette.34 Objectivists believe the definition of ethnicity is derived from a number of sociocultural categories, and subjectivists think ethnicity should reflect ascriptions made by people upon themselves, hence the importance of self-labeling. Postmodern theory has demonstrated that the self is not a fixed entity but something that the person actively creates, partly through consumption. The research of business scholars such as Elisabeth Hirschman on the Jewish community in the early eighties highlighted the existence of various degrees of identification people feel with a particular ethnic group and the influence of ethnicity on consumption decisions.35 Ethnicity was shown to be a porous and variable concept, something that is highly contextual, and that fluctuates according to circumstances. Clear-cut definitions of ethnicity became blurred and the intensity of one’s ethnic affiliation increasingly difficult to measure.36 In 1979, Herbert Gans introduced the notion of “symbolic ethnicity”, a low-level ethnic identification based on symbolic structures that represent a nostalgia for traditions and do not imply an intensive commitment.37

  • 38  Russell W. Belk., “Possessions and the Extended Self”,Journal of Consumer Research, September 1988 (...)

37Recent marketing research has confirmed these ideas. Consumers increasingly choose products not just because of what they do, but because of what they mean. Symbolic meaning is more important than mere utility.38

  • 39  Richard Elliott, Kritsadarat Wattanasuwan, “Brands as Symbolic Resources for the Construction of I (...)

In postmodern consumer culture, individuals are engaged in a constant task of negotiating meanings from lived and mediated experience as they endeavour to construct and maintain their identity. As part of the resources for this task they utilise the symbolic meanings of consumer goods and through an understanding of the dynamics of the process of identity construction, opportunities can be identified for brands to play an important role in the symbolic project of the self.39

38Since ethnic identity is now something chosen rather than predetermined, individuals tend to switch back and forth between several identities. As in the new line of cross-cultural “Barbie” dolls, ethnicity is now often in the eye of the beholder.

  • 40  Hence the development of what Richard Alba calls the “White Ethnics” (Irish, Italian, German), or (...)
  • 41  M. Halter, Shopping for Identity, op.cit., 16.

39While many consumers enjoy choosing from an “ethnic smorgasbord”, others have developed renewed interest in the cultures into which they were born.40 Marketers thus focus on ethnic pride and nationalism by sponsoring local festivals and national holidays, and making frequent use of cultural icons, artifacts, ethnic figures or popular imagery. A telling example is the importance given by the Irish-American community in the United States to a celebration like “St Patrick’s Day” as opposed to its much more sober version in Ireland. The same thing is true with Hispanic Americans, who celebrate Mexico’s victory over the French in 1862 with their highly popular Cinco de Mayo festival, a widely recognized holiday in the United States, but much less celebrated across the border. The same observations can be made for Kwanzaa, the African-American festival and for Hannukah, a Jewish festival: “by 1998 […], the Disney company was offering no fewer than five different Mickey Mouse menorah designs and three Winnie the Poohs, while shoppers could find Chanukah travel mugs at Starbucks’ shops around the country”.41 Ethnicity has become a widely profitable commercial value.

  • 42  Dominique Bouchet,  “Marketing and the Redefinition of Ethnicity”, in Janeen A. Costa & Gary J. Ba (...)
  • 43  M. Halter, Shopping for Identity, op.cit., 115-116.
  • 44  In Janeen A. Costa & Gary J. Bamossy (eds.), Marketing in a Multicultural World: Ethnicity, Nation (...)

40But here again, marketers reformulate ethnicity to match what consumers want to hear and how they want to be portrayed. Whereas traditional ethnic groups clung to their traditions, post-modern ethnic groups cling to their lifestyles.42 They are not so much interested in their roots as in the way they perceive themselves, not so much in the substance of their culture as in the way it is presented. People want to have ethnic roots to identify with, but do not want the involvement and the cumbersome traditions that go with them. Some Jewish marketers discovered that selling items such as fake crab or “Jewish bacon” (which is not bacon at all but chicken skin, deep fried in chicken fat, onions and salt until crispy brown), all items which are forbidden in the Jewish tradition, was highly popular among Jewish consumers who found it easier and more appealing to respect strict eating guidelines and eating prohibitions. “As a version of modern-day alchemy, kosher marketing is currently so successful because it satisfies the simultaneous though seemingly contradictory desires among so many to be able to consume the old with the new” says Marilyn Halter.43 But in this case, as Denmark’s Odense Department of Marketing professor Fuat Firat aptly asks, should one speak of consumer culture or of culture consumed?44

  • 45  M. Halter, Shopping for Identity, op.cit., 183

41As seen in the many examples quoted throughout this article, the ethnicity portrayed by marketers is glamorous, chic and trendy. This, of course, hardly reflects reality. Ethnic Americans are also among the poorer individuals and households in the nation. Black and Hispanic family incomes and education levels are lower than those of Anglos. Their high school dropout rates remain high. Even so, marketers picture them as affluent, well integrated and upwardly mobile consumers. Glossing over the past, as in Bank of America’s ads, proves highly effective since getting back to one’s roots (or forging one’s own) and making it financially are two trends that resonate with consumers, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. Innovative marketers have successfully learned to sublimate ethnicity’s assets and downplay its liabilities. But this leaves us wondering, as M. Halter does, whether “the idea that race and ethnicity are simply matters of style and motif [may not] obscure[s] the very real economic and social inequalities based on racial identity that still persist in American society”.45

Conclusion

  • 46  ibid, 116.

42Ethnic marketing in the United States innovates on several fronts today. First, because it combines both traditional segmented campaigns that are more and more fine-tuned to the expectations of minority American consumers, and cross-cultural campaigns that are also devised to appeal to Americans at large, regardless of ethnic background and race. And, more importantly, it innovates in the sense that it sells an idealized and customized ethnicity, conveniently tailor-made to suit a crowd of increasingly volatile, demanding and diverse buyers. Campaigns that extoll the ethnic virtue of goods and services or dress up a product with an ethnic halo succeed in forging an emotional bond with consumers, and brands are thus able to enlarge their customer base. Never mind that the ethnicity portrayed is idealized and romanced, so that it becomes a matter of image and style, a sort of“convenient”, “portable” or even “part-time” ethnicity.46

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Notes

1  Jim Bessen, “Riding the Marketing Information Wave”, Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct. 1993, vol. 71, no. 5, 153.

2  Marye C. Tharp, Marketing and ConsumerIdentity in Multicultural America. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2001, 24.

3  Susan Fournier, “Consumers and their Brands : Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research ”, Journal of Consumer Research, March 1998, vol. 24, 343-373 ; Susan Fournier, “The Consumer and the Brand: An Understanding Within the Framework of Personal Relationships,” Harvard Business School, Division of Research, Working paper, September 1996 ; Gifford Dun Jr., “Brand Management: Moving Beyond Loyalty”, Harvard Business Review, March-April 1997, vol. 75, no. 2, 9.

4  Cited in Stuart Elliott, “The Challenge of Getting Shoppers to Try the Untried is the Final Focus of an Ad Conference”,The New York Times, October 20 1997, D8.

5  Howard Shultz, Pour Your Heart Into It. New York : Hyperion, 1997, 5.

6  Naomi Klein, No Logo. London: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

7  <www.hallmark.com>.

8  Marye C. Tharp, Marketing and ConsumerIdentity in Multicultural America,op.cit., 2.

9  Joseph Turow, “Breaking up America: The Dark Side of Target Marketing”, American Demographics, 1997, vol. 19, no. 11, 51-54.

10  Milton M. Gordon, “The Subsociety and the Subculture”, in D. Arnold (ed.) Subcultures, Berkeley: Glendessary Press, 1970, 150-163.

11  Cf. Marilyn Halter, Shopping for Identity: the Marketing of Ethnicity. New York: Schocken Books, 2000, 115.

12  Translated in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.” The Dairy Association’s huge success with the campaign “Got Milk?” once translated into Spanish read “Are you lactating?” For Taiwanese, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.  When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its “Fly In Leather” campaign literally, which meant “Fly Naked” (vuela en cuero) in Spanish.

13  Minority Business Development Agency, Minority Purchasing Power: 2000-2045, Washington DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000, 1-5.

14   For a detailed breakup of figures by minority group, cf the following sources: “The Buying Power of Black America,” Target Market News, March 26, 2004, <http://www.targetmarketnews.com>, consulted in June 2005; Census Bureau, Projected Population of the United States by Race and Hispanic Origin 2000 to 2050 <http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/usinterimproj/natprojtab01a.pdf> ; Punam Mathur, “United Through Diversity”, 2003 Governor’s Conference on Tourism Presentation, Las Vegas: Corporate Diversity & Community Affairs, 2003.

15  <www.yankelovich.com>, consulted in July 2005.

16  Marcus Mabry, “A Long Way from Aunt Jemima” Newsweek, August 14, 1989, 34-35.

17  Laurel Wentz, “Bank of America Goes Multicultural”, Advertising Age, April 4 2002, vol. 73, no. 15, 3.

18 Leon Wynter, American Skin. Pop Culture, Big Business and the End of White America. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.

19  Cf. Christopher John Farley, “Hip-hop Nation”, Time, February 8, 1999.

20  For a good picture of the emergence of this trend, cf. Paulette Thomas, “Minority Businesses Increase Cross-Ethnic Marketing”, Wall Street Journal, April 21 1998, B2.

21  Cf. DSN Retailing Today, January 10 2005, vol. 44, no. 1, 23.

22  Michael Solomon, Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being. 3rd ed, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.

23  Jean-Paul Tréguier, Jean-Marc Ségati, Les nouveaux marketings, Paris : Dunod, 2005, 10.

24  Richard Melcher, “United Colors of Miller: It’s Ditching Ethnic Marketing for Cross-Cultural Ads”, Business Week, May 19 1997.

25  Cf. Yankelovich Joins Forces with Cheskin and Images USA to Study Multicultural Marketing, June 18, 2003, <http://www.cheskin.com/p/pr.asp?mlid=32&prid=18>, consulted in August 2005.

26  Pascal G. Zachary, The Global Me: Mongrel Capitalism and the Competitive Advantage of Nations. DC: Public Affairs Press, 2000.

27 Cited in Rob Walker, “Whassup, Barbie?”, op.cit.

28  Marye C. Tharp, Marketing and ConsumerIdentity in Multicultural America,op.cit., 13.

29  Joseph Turow, ‘Breaking up America: The Dark Side of Target Marketing’, op.cit., 51-54.

30 Geng Cui, “Marketing Diversity and Cost-effective Marketing Strategies”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 2002, vol. 19, no. 1, 54-73.

31 Ibidem.

32   Cited in Rob Walker, “Whassup, Barbie?”, The Boston Globe, January 12 2003, D1.

33  Laurel Wentz, “Multicultural Issue Divides Ad Industry”, Advertising Age, August 23 2004, vol. 75, no. 34, 10.

34  Rohit Deshpande, Wayne D. Hoyer, Naveen Donthu, “The Intensity of Ethnic Affiliation: A Study of the Sociology of Hispanic Consumption”, Journal of Consumer Research, 1986, vol. 13, no.2, 214-220.

35 Elizabeth C. Hirschman, “American Jewish Ethnicity: Its Relationship to Some Selected Aspects of Consumer Behavior”, Journal of Marketing, Summer 1981, vol. 45, no.3, 102-110.

36  Tommy E. Whitler, Roger J. Calantone, Mark R. Young, “Strength of Ethnic Affiliation: Examining Black Identification with Black Culture”, Journal of Social Psychology, August 1991, vol. 131, no.4, 461-467.

37  Herbert Gans,  “Symbolic Ethnicity; the Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America”, Ethnic and Racial Studies 1979, vol. 15, no. 2, 173-192.

38  Russell W. Belk., “Possessions and the Extended Self”,Journal of Consumer Research, September 1988, vol. 15, 139-168; Helga Dittmar, The Social Psychology of Material Possessions: To Have is to Be. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatheaf, 1992; Gabriel Yiannis, Tim Lang, The Unmanageable Consumer: Contemporary Consumption and its Fragmentations. London: Sage Publications, 1995; Grant McCracken, Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to The Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988; Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behavior, op.cit.

39  Richard Elliott, Kritsadarat Wattanasuwan, “Brands as Symbolic Resources for the Construction of Identity”, International Journal of Advertising, 1998, vol. 17, no. 2, 131-144.

40  Hence the development of what Richard Alba calls the “White Ethnics” (Irish, Italian, German), or Euro-Americans, in Ethnic Identity: the Transformation of White America. New Haven, CR: Yale University Press, 1990.

41  M. Halter, Shopping for Identity, op.cit., 16.

42  Dominique Bouchet,  “Marketing and the Redefinition of Ethnicity”, in Janeen A. Costa & Gary J. Bamossy (eds.), Marketing in a Multicultural World: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cultural Identity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995.

43  M. Halter, Shopping for Identity, op.cit., 115-116.

44  In Janeen A. Costa & Gary J. Bamossy (eds.), Marketing in a Multicultural World: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cultural Identity, op cit.

45  M. Halter, Shopping for Identity, op.cit., 183

46  ibid, 116.

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Marie-Christine Pauwels, « Marketers as Innovators: how ethnic marketing revisits ethnicity », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. IV - n°1 | 2006, 234-254.

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Marie-Christine Pauwels, « Marketers as Innovators: how ethnic marketing revisits ethnicity », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. IV - n°1 | 2006, mis en ligne le 26 octobre 2009, consulté le 18 juillet 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2293 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.2293

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Auteur

Marie-Christine Pauwels

Dr. (Paris X, France)
Marie-Christine Pauwels is an associate professor at the University of Paris X Nanterre where she teaches American cultural studies, focusing more particularly on minority cultures and the integration of ethnic minorities and women in American corporations. She is the author of many articles and of several books on American society and culture published by Hachette and regularly updated: Le Rêve américain, Civilisation américaine, Civilisation des Ētats-Unis. Marie-Christine Pauwels is a member of the CERVEPAS, a research center studying the economy of the United States and of the United Kingdom. Her latest publications include « Le Diversity Management, nouveau paradigme d’intégration des minorités dans l’entreprise ? », Revue française dEtudes américaines, n°101, Paris, éditions Belin, septembre 2004 ; « La position des grandes entreprises américaines dans le débat sur l’affirmative action à l’Université du Michigan en 2003 », dans Lentrepreneur et son environnement en Grande-Bretagne et aux Ētats-Unis, textes réunis par Olivier Frayssé et Nathalie Champroux, CERVEPAS, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2005 ; “Financing education under President Bush: the 2002 ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act”, March 2005, <http://www.univ-paris3.fr/recherche/sites/edea/cervepas/accueil_fr.htm>. In 2002, she was awarded a six-week Fulbright fellowship at NYU.

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