There are 298 million search results for “hard-to-reach audience” on Google. Over on ChatGPT, it tells you that “a hard-to-reach audience refers to a specific group of individuals or demographic that is difficult to engage or communicate with effectively.”
It’s a concept as old as advertising, but WPP’s Consumer Equality Equation report sets out to address “hard to reach” afresh. By plunging into the relationship between ethnicity and the consumer experience in the UK, and working to close a significant data gap, it arms marketers and advertisers with more insights and tools than ever to better plan and buy media that deliver effective and engaging campaigns to people from minority ethnic groups - and truly reflect modern society.
“Labelling audiences as ‘hard to reach’ places the problem squarely with those audiences, and it’s a route to marginalisation,” says Nicola Jopling, head of growth strategy at GroupM UK, which, alongside WPP and Ogilvy Consulting, conducted the report with original research from BAV, Choreograph and Kantar.
“We are doubling down to ensure that the rich insights about minority ethnic consumer experience in this report find their way through into campaign activation so we can authentically reach these growth consumers through the channels they most engage with and trust, not those we think they should be consuming.”
“Consumers are in a period of turbulence, looking for new brands that can support them during a cost of living crisis, as well as brands that are doing the right thing socially. Businesses are increasingly pressed to find short-and-medium-term growth opportunities.
“At the perfect intersection of these two social and commercial zeitgeists is the opportunity to address the consumer inequality of minority ethnic groups. By doing so, businesses will fill that growth gap in the short term, but also set themselves up for the long term. And by tackling consumer inequality, they'll also be fulfilling their corporate commitments to equality and purpose. It's a win-win - but only if businesses act now.”
Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Islamic marketing and director of consumer equality, Ogilvy
So, how can brands use these learnings to augment their media plans and speak more authentically to minority ethnic audiences?
Understanding community-led media
The report shows that a sense of community plays a key role in the identity of people from minority ethnic groups. Among the UK population, 77% say community is important to their identity, but this rises to 86% for minority ethnic groups.
Media that is seen as reflecting a sense of community is more trusted, as is out-of-home and minority-owned media. Therefore it is vital to actively consider the role of these channels on a media plan to build and maintain trust with consumers from minority ethnic groups.
Partnering with influencers can be a personal way to speak directly with minority ethnic groups, when part of a comprehensive communications strategy that considers influencers’ relevance to a community, and is not included tokenistically.
Out-of-home is trusted, perhaps due to its ability to use creative, location-specific messaging, and being perceived as community-focussed. Advances in technology mean OOH is fast becoming a go-to channel for brands to help achieve the holy grail of targeted messaging on a mass scale. GroupM is using OOH as part of its effort to focus on more precise geotargeting, as it allows brands to target really specific locations to reach audiences in their communities.
Reaching those audiences isn’t the battle, however. It’s about taking the time to understand the populations you are targeting to be able to engage authentically.
An example of this was the award-winning “Together This Ramadan” out-of-home activation for Tesco by EssenceMediacom, DOOH.com, Kinetic, BBH, The Unmistakables and the Race and Ethnicity Network at Tesco. A digital billboard featured a collection of empty plates during the day, which filled up with food as the sun set, to signify Iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims at the end of each day’s fast during Ramadan.
Following the activation, YouGov Buzz, a metric for brand health and positivity, reached the maximum score of 100, up from 24 before the campaign - the biggest ever short-term shift of this metric.
“For Ramadan 2022, Tesco wanted to help Britain’s Muslim community feel seen – so we worked with cultural consultancy The Unmistakables, as well as our partners EssenceMediacom, Kinetic, BBH and DOOH.com, to create ads that celebrated Iftar, the meal to break the fast at sunset,” says Tom Mardon, head of campaign planning & media at Tesco. “An amazing, yet simple idea. Ramadan Mubarak.”
By using data and insight from the report, brands can incorporate diverse media channels to make their campaigns go further. “By fine-tuning creative messaging, frequency management, representation of the various groups, contextual placement and location of advertising,” the report says, “brands can make their communication work harder.”
GroupM has long been working with media businesses which are both owned by under-represented groups and which also create relatable, community content. These partners provide an opportunity for advertisers to connect authentically with audiences, who may have been previously overlooked.
“It is our responsibility to ensure our programmatic media supply chain is representative of Modern Britain, and that under-represented media owners are able to readily access client spend, having an equitable opportunity to thrive and serve their audiences and grow their business,” says Miriam Habibi, head of advanced media at GroupM UK.
“We do this through continued partnering and engagement; developing joint growth goals with media owners, as well as establishing planning and activation initiatives in the UK such as Inclusive Marketplace and the mList - both which focus on ensuring that Under Represented Group - owned media and those making content specifically for community audiences are accessible to clients by default - while also supporting these publications through our meticulous brand safety processes. The findings from this report have both accelerated and guided these initiatives since its release.”
Using this data to drive progress
GroupM says it is determined to take the findings and insight from this study and translate it into media planning and campaign activation, ensuring it is evolving the work it does for its clients, and driving progress within the wider industry.
To that end, one of the first things it chose to do was make the new BrandAsset Valuator® (BAV) data available to everyone across WPP. This means clients across the group can easily tap into this huge amount of information.
The report findings are now fully integrated into GroupM’s programmatic media buying strategy, including its overall strategic direction. It is also testing opportunities to ensure that smaller publishers are not hindered by algorithms, and that the way it manages programmatic campaign activity is not biased and gives these publishers a fair opportunity.
As an example, within GroupM Nexus, the UK’s largest community of performance-marketing experts, the Xaxis UK team is rallying the industry to adopt a set of minimum standards to encourage more inclusive media buying practices and a more sustainable programmatic supply chain.
These minimum standards include:
• DE&I minimum standards implemented across all campaigns to mitigate bias and remove inadvertent discrimination
• Diverse media is always on for dedicated line items
• Diverse media is always on for budget allocation
• No DE&I keywords feature on the exclusion list
• No default English language targeting
“There is always more that can be done to support both diverse-owned media, and consumers from minority ethnic groups alike. At GroupM, we’ve been emphatic about the need to not let these findings just sit in a report - but actually acting on them and calling on the industry to similarly learn from this wealth of unique data. The investment and product teams at GroupM will continue to work tirelessly to enable these learnings into every corner of our UK business and we look forward to seeing continued progress in this area to the benefit of our clients, the wider industry and UK society.”
Carl Nawagamuwa, managing director of investment, GroupM UK
Learn more and explore the findings at wpp.com/consumerequality