The New Demographics: Ethnic communities

With the UK's minority ethnic audiences ever growing, advertisers should capitalise on niche communities' demands for more content outside the mainstream channels.

If you're trawling through census data in order to understand today's UK's non-white audiences, forget it. The world has changed irrevocably since 2001. And minority ethnic audiences, which are thought to account for 10 per cent of the UK population, are now some of the most complicated and diverse.

They could also be some of the most lucrative. IPA data from 2003 suggests the combined disposable income of all the UK's minority ethnic groups is £32 billion, with other estimates putting that figure as high as £300 billion by 2010.

This should not be underestimated, particularly during an economic slowdown. "In times of recession, advertisers need to look at niche advertising opportunities," Saad Saraf, the chief executive of the multicultural ad agency Media Reach, says. "When a brand is looking for a 1 to 3 per cent shift in market share, it is niche audiences such as these that can swing a campaign between success and failure, and ultimately impact on a brand's bottom line."

Nowadays, options span all forms of media. Star TV, one of Asia's leading entertainment companies, hopes to cater for the dual identities of third- and fourth-generation British Asians through reformatted British TV shows such as The X-Factor and Are You Smarter than a 10 Year Old? It is one of more than 80 ethnic satellite channels that have sprung up since the deregulation of the media sector in the 90s.

But it is online where ethnic media are growing the fastest. "Many media owners realise that it is a lot quicker to grow communities around online, whereas setting up a print or TV channel requires more work and investment," Gita Srivastava, the UK country head for People Group, says. The South Asian publishing group has already launched People Online, an ad network of more than 30 news and lifestyle sites that is registering 1.1 million users and is in talks with O2 and Barclays to advertise with it.

In terms of print titles, The Sun pitched its fork in the Polish newspaper market earlier this year with a special Polish edition that ran during Euro 2008, while various UK-printed newspapers, such as Toplum Postasi for Turks and Parikiaki for Greeks, keep immigrants from every part of Europe up to date. But this is just a small sample. According to brad, the media directory, there are no fewer than 85 ethnic media titles catering for almost every cultural group in the UK.

But are advertisers taking the bait? Given the supposed potential, there appears to be a glaring absence of mainstream brands choosing to advertise in ethnic media. Take a recent issue of the Afro-Caribbean title The Voice, where a handful of niche brands (including Moneygram and Old Jamaica Ginger Beer) are still heavily outnumbered by classified-style tactical ads for education courses, travel agents and public events. Even O2.pl, the second-most-visited Polish website in the UK, showcases only a few digital ads for Tesco and Mastercard among the wealth of ads from Polish companies. This is a trend symptomatic across much ethnic media, which still attracts more niche services in search of the "brown pound" than mainstream brands attempting to grow their profile.

So why aren't the big brands investing in ethnic media? The reasons are equivocal, but one is that it is still early days for all parties. Saraf says many ethnic-media publishers still have to "raise their game" in a bid to engage with larger advertisers and their agencies, while advertisers need to research their ethnic audience more and engage them more purposefully. With so many players entering the market daily, media agencies are still to be convinced of the circulation and readership data of many titles, which is not helped by the fact that certain titles still lack tightly regulated third-party auditing.

Meanwhile, in a world where return on investment is key, many brands feel safer in mainstream media, rather than investing in niche titles, where content and tone can remain a mystery and when many titles haven't yet had the time to bite their market. And in stark contrast to the US, many brands seem to feel quietly apprehensive of entering a dialogue with consumers predicated by race or cultural background.

Yet all of this should be challenged. With the UK's minority ethnic audiences growing and niche communities seeking content from outside of the mainstream channels, advertisers are urged to seize this moment to diversify their media strategies.

"Most media agencies are aware that specific multicultural audiences exist, but their thinking has got to be deeper than just surface level," Ope Bankole, the head of advertising and marketing for GV Media, one of the leading publishers of Afro-Caribbean magazines, says. "If you choose to reach the diaspora of non-white London by running ads in Metro just because the entire Tube carriage reads it, that's got to be a foolhardy media strategy."

Yet the issue of advertisers and ethnicity raises even bigger questions. As it leaves its past behind, Britain has had a cautious (sometimes awkward) relationship with minority audiences. Desperate to show itself as reflective of society, it tends to settle for a policy of blanket multiculturalism that promotes inclusion, rather than delineating between different groups.

This can often backfire. Earlier this year, Samir Shah, a member of the BBC's board of directors, said broadcasters had made up for their lack of executives from ethnic minorities by putting too many black and Asian faces on screen. This, he asserted, had led to a "world of deracinated coloured people flickering across our screens - to the irritation of many viewers and the embarrassment of the very people such actions are meant to appease".

Such worries have hampered advertisers wanting to reflect society and engage minority ethnic audiences, but that lack the confidence to do so. A study by Mediaedge:cia for Channel 4 concluded that while such audiences represented a "significant opportunity", plenty of advertising was failing to connect. Often, this was because advertisers hoped to engage minority ethnic audiences simply by featuring them. As the study pointed out, this could have the reverse effect. It described the fallacy as a "double-edged sword" that split communities between those which saw ethnic representation as positive and those who saw it as "tokenistic and stereotypical".

David Fletcher, the head of MediaLab, a research division at Mediaedge:cia, explains: "Identity tends to be used simultaneously to show similarities and difference. Many Asians, for example, would consider themselves as English and Indian, so they are not automatically differentiated among their peers but are seen as bringing something unique to the table that no-one else does. It's not as simple as one or the other."

Ad agencies, too, need to work harder to get beneath the surface when addressing minority ethnic audiences. Ogilvy Advertising's recent ad for Tilda rice featuring a distraught Indian mother who found her son cooking rice in a microwave may have been received better earlier this decade when BBC comedy Goodness Gracious Me was in its prime. But ten years on, with Asians still raw after the effects of 7/7 and the BNP recently winning its first seat on the London Assembly, it is not quite the same laughing matter. "To broadcast a mainstream ad like that was absolutely dreadful," the chief executive of one ethnic media agency says. "Asians will hate it and I'm not sure the English will like it either. Honing a strategy around a worried Indian mother out of Goodness Gracious Me is not only negative, it's dated. People have moved on."

Fortunately for advertisers, the rise of ethnic media channels has paved the way for a tighter dialogue, while specialist agencies are on hand to help advertisers fine-tune their messages appropriately. Sterling Media, a media agency for the South Asian market, points out that ethnic identities are never constant, and advises advertisers keen to create demographic clusters that, rather than stereotype, understand that classifications evolve over time. "Ethnicity is a multidimensional expression of identity that is affected by other things such as immigration or intermarriage," its founder, Teji Singh, says. "Rather than defining ethnic groups with one fixed term, demographics have to be more fluid: as a result, terms are coined to define new audiences."

Recent ones include: "British-born confused desi" - Asians born in the UK who find their sense of identity temporarily locked between Eastern upbringing and Western culture (particularly among Muslim communities in the wake of the political climate after 9/11); "Brasian" (British Asian) - those born in the UK but with roots still existing in the subcontinent; and "British and desi" for people whose identities swing intermittently towards either side.

Meanwhile, among the Polish communities, identities have been split into three groups differentiated by the level of English spoken, reasons for migrating and the time intended to stay in Britain (see box, p5).

Yet even applying temporal classifications can be dangerous. Don't forget South Asians, who largely comprise Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan communities and speak 28 languages between them. Meanwhile, Eastern Europeans include Polish, Lithuanians and Slovakians; Middle Eastern groups include Arabic and Persian; and Afro-Caribbean includes Ghanaian, Somali, Nigerian and Caribbean.

Each group is not only diverse, but also has its own attitudes and lifestyles depending on its generation, socio-economic group, religion and relationship with the UK. Take today's Polish immigrants who, buoyed by European Union accession, dip in and out of the country to make a quick buck, and compare them with the first wave of post-war immigrants.

Similarly, contrast the first-generation Gujarati communities that came to the UK from India and Africa in the 50s and 60s and compare their weekly digest of the first-generation title Gujarati Samachar with that of their children, born and raised in the UK, many of whom consume mainstream media as well as paying homage to their cultural heritage through an appreciation of Bollywood or weekly glance at the Eastern Eye.

It then becomes clear that difference, not similarity, is key. In a reverse trend to multiculturalism, which promotes a society of inclusion based on collective similarities, many advertisers and media owners are now going the extra mile to cater to these differences. Earlier this year, COI restructured its black and minority ethnic framework in a bid to better target new groups, including migrants and emerging communities. Patricia Macauley, COI's head of cultural diversity, argued at the time that the UK demographics had changed and that the government faced "an increasing challenge to target specific ethnic minority groups."

GV Media, which publishes titles for Afro-Caribbean audiences, has two main titles: The Gleaner (targeting Jamaica-born UK residents) and The Voice (mainly for British-born black and Caribbean audiences). Nonetheless, it has still had to venture into more than 15 supplements addressing individual interests of the Afro-Caribbean community including food, fashion and lifestyle, parenting and male issues. "All these extensions were born from the need to segment and talk individually to specific groups of the Afro-Caribbean audience, rather than assume they're all assimilated into one collective culture," Bankole says.

It's a daunting prospect, particularly for a society that has grown comfortable with the term "multiculturalism". But it's also a necessity for advertisers looking to address a country whose ethnic complexion and immigration patterns are more multilayered and complex than ever before.

Advertisers need look no further than the US, where some of the worst fears of implementing an ethnically driven campaign should be allayed. With the combined buying power of ethnic Americans estimated as more than $1 trillion, many of the biggest advertisers, including Verizon and Wal-Mart, have multicultural marketing heads to oversee ethnic campaigns directed at the rich plethora of immigrant communities.

It is a strategy that, if anything, has fostered a more respectful understanding of cultures and improved the bottom line of many brands, largely without prompting outcries of racism or segregation. Whether UK advertisers and their agencies yet have the will, sensitivity and cultural empathy to do the same is an open question.


Twenty-seven-year-old Anna Rykczinski comes from a small hamlet 30 miles east of Krakow in Poland - not to be confused with the insalubrious estate three miles south of London known locally as Crack City, where she shares a two-bed council flat with four friends.

Unlike her flatmates, who are here to party, Anna is here for life. She dreams of a house in Ealing, a new Ford Focus and a British husband - in no particular order of preference.

To get them, Anna knows she has to assimilate. She already speaks English with a smoky, cut-glass accent acquired from Joanna and Johnnie, the parents of Boudicca and Lysander, for whom she nannies. She reads the London freesheets fluently. But, acquisitive and materialistic though she is, she finds them full of empty tittle-tattle compared with the sober authority of Polish titles such as Gazeta Wyborcza, Polish Express and O2.pl, which she consults daily online.

She has an ambivalent relationship with UK brands. To her, they are still more a promise of Britishness than a reassurance of product quality. But, being a bit of a peasant, she doesn't quite understand why you would pay over the odds for a product just because it spent a lot of money telling you to. Come on, Anna. Get with the programme. How are you going to ever fit in with attitudes like that?


TV: Zee TV, Star TV, Ben TV

Press: Polish Express, Asian Eye, The Voice

Radio: Sunrise Radio, Spectrum Radio, Radio Orla

Web: Rediff.com, blacknet.co.uk, shaadi.com


Known for their work ethic and quality of craftsmanship, few migrants have stamped their mark on Britain's labour market in recent years like the Polish. The community is now the largest single group of migrants to the UK, with estimates varying between 230,000 and one million.

Contrary to the first wave of immigrants in 1949, today's Poles have numerous motivations for coming here, with many likely to be transitory visitors rather than permanent residents. A recent study by Mediaedge:cia identified three groups.

These are: "trippers", who arrive in the UK for a season with the aim of earning as much money as quickly as possible; "savers", who plan to stay in the UK longer, with the aim of accumulating as much cash as they can and ultimately investing it back into Poland or repaying debts; and "blenders", who have long-term plans to remain in the UK and whose lifestyle reflects British life. They may be younger, better-educated and already have roots here.

Media consumption varies, too. The internet is by far the most popular source for information, with many choosing sites run by the Polish community in the UK. In May, four former Guardian journalists set up polot.co.uk, a site for Poles that registered 700,000 hits in its first month. Other sites include londonynek.net, polishexpress.com and wider Polish web portals such as wp.pl or O2.pl - the second most popular Polish website in the UK after Google, according to Hitwise.

Many struggle with English and (with the exception of blenders) are unlikely to engage with the majority of British media. Instead, their print-media preferences are likely to be the UK-published Polish papers, including Goniec Polski, Polish Express and Cooltura.

Advertisers should also think about their creative strategy when targeting them. "Polish audiences prefer ads with direct and factual information about products, whereas ads with humour or that imply something unsaid tend to produce less interest," Tomasz Kmiecik, the managing director of Fortis Publishing, says. "One British supermarket created an ad using a popular Polish phrase relating to drinking. But rather than being taken humorously, most Poles found it utterly derogatory."


Working tax credits and free early education are two government initiatives to support unemployed or low-income parents with childcare.

In recent years, the Government had noticed a significant absence of take-up of these initiatives among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BME). A number of reasons were identified for this, including financial pressures, guilt among mothers for sending their children to childcare and concerns about safety.

The Department of Children, Schools and Families appointed Media Reach to create and implement a campaign to raise awareness of both initiatives among the hard-to-reach Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, and boost participation. It would use all forms of media.

A campaign was created inviting adults to "Give your child a brighter future". Media was bulk-bought and a series of animated television ads aired over the summer.

Aimed at BME parents, the campaign promoted the 12.5 hours of free early-learning entitlement that is available to all three- and four-year-olds. The TV spots ran on a number of ethnic satellite channels, including Prime TV, Ary Digital, DM Digital, Geo TV, Geo News, Bangla TV, ATN Bangla and Channel S, with versions translated into Bengali, Punjabi and Urdu.

The campaign was supported by radio ads on local stations such as Sunrise FM, and on local regional stations including ASR Manchester, XL in Birmingham as well as print ads in a number of regional press titles, as well as Bengali and Urdu-targeted ethnic media.

Direct mail and live events were used. A 200,000 leaflet drop was carried out in areas with high levels of Asian households including London, Slough, Birmingham, Kirklees, Rotherham, Oldham, Luton and Manchester. Media Reach also worked with the DCSF and local authorities to host outreach Fun Days in Bradford, Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and Camden in London. Each of these days re-enacted a nursery environment for children with distributors on hand to deliver information.

Helpline tracking revealed that calls among the targeted group increased by 60 per cent, with a high level of recall registered by the target audience.