Agency networks in the US are battling against one another to take
advantage of the rising cultural and economic influence of African
Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Pacific Americans.
Last week, True North bought a 49 per cent stake in Don Coleman
Advertising (DCA), a Detroit-based agency which, since it was founded in
1988, has grown to become the third largest African-American-owned
The week before, Leo Burnett spun off its 12-year-old Hispanic division
into an independent unit called Lapiz (Spanish for ’pencil’) in a drive
to build up this lucrative side of the business.
And in June, Publicis acquired a 49 per cent stake in Burrell
Communications, which has been targeting African Americans from its
Chicago offices since 1971.
All three ’ethnic’ agencies have an impressive list of blue-chip
clients: Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble,
DaimlerChrysler, Miller Brewing Co, Kmart Corporation and a host of
other household names have already acknowledged the economic importance
of finding a way to reach multi-cultural groups that are expected to
account for 32 per cent of all Americans by 2010.
According to True North, the African-American, Hispanic and Asian
Pacific-American populations are growing at seven times the rate of the
consumer market in general, and ethnic buying power, which is estimated
to be more than dollars 1.14 trillion for 1999, has doubled in the last
Despite the obvious business advantages, US agencies have so far been
surprisingly slow to grasp the opportunities opening up to them in the
sector. David Bell, chairman and CEO of True North, says: ’We view
multi-cultural marketing as an important source of future growth.’
Media, too, is an issue. According to True North’s statistics, despite
the growing influence of multi-cultural consumers, just over 1 per cent
of the approximately dollars 206 billion spent by advertisers on US
media in 1998 was allocated to targeted ethnic media.
The New America Strategies Group (True North’s group of US
multi-cultural agencies) has recently launched the New America Media
Group, which focuses on media planning and buying in ethnic media.
It’s not just about flogging products, either. Thomas Burrell, the
chairman and chief executive of Burrell Communications Group, says it is
also about ’fully representing brands for which an African-American
cultural aesthetic is highly persuasive to the target consumer’.
Ricky Martin’s Hispanic roots have proved a huge hit in the pop charts
on both sides of the Atlantic. And few white acts can match the broad
appeal of Will Smith or the accessible cool of Puff Daddy or Lauryn
By working closely with ’multi-cultural’ agencies, networks like True
North and Publicis can, they hope, access these cultures which are so
important to many younger consumers.