Sailaja N. Joshi

Beyond Black

In American Dream, Social Change, United States on April 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

It seems that even in today’s multicultural world, people in America, or rather American businesses still only view the world as black or white. And if you’re white you’re rich and if you’re black, you’re ghetto. Yes, I know that’s a generalization but turn on your T.V for a minute and tell me that’s not how these races are portrayed in the media. After all, is that a young, hip black family in that new Toyota Sienna commercial?

Recently, the consumer insights company Alloy Marketing + Media did a study on the new African American consumer. Through their work, the company uncovered that the typical ghetto persona of the ‘90s is fading among African youths giving way to the Urban Hustler. In the article, director of consumer insights at Alloy, Andre Picard (met him, he’s awesome!), stated that the new Urban Hustler is about drive, work ethic and striving towards upward mobility. In other words, he’s Kanye over 50 Cent. Classy with a bit (ok, in Kanye’s case a lot) of attitude.

While Alloy is on track/point with this new study, the fact is that the African-American consumer is not the only minority out there. Companies have been developing research on African-Americans and Hispanics for years, and sure they know them well enough. But what about those other ethnic minorities out there?

Moving beyond black, there are those of us out there (raise your hands dots not feather Indians) who marketers just don’t understand. There millions of second gen- Asians out there who are looking to some consumer brand to care about them. And the fact is, we’ve got buying power, LOTS of buying power and I bet we’d be ready to give you our dollars if you took some time to understand.

So, what should companies do?

Start researching! As I said before, the 2010 Census  is going to be a big eye opener for companies as they realize the Asian minorities are no longer minorities, but majorities with cash to spend.

Companies like Alloy Media + Marketing are great because they specialize in the young, urban (aka Black/Hispanic) consumer. They are an awesome source of information for consumer goods brands. But they’ve gotta change their game too. They have to move beyond black and start researching the plethora of Asian consumers in the US. Hey, we’re young, proud and hip, someone oughta’ get to know us if they want our loyalty!

So in short. Toyota, switch that family in your Sienna Ad to an Asian one. Just take a quick survey of the Asians sitting around you and I guarantee 4 out of the 5 own SOME kind of Toyota.

And Alloy, up the game and hire me for your Asian Research Consumer Marketing Division (aka Beyond Black).

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  1. I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work 🙂

  2. while i normally agree with you, I don’t think its smart for a company such as Toyota (asian company) to market to asians, its a waste of their money. all that market research is gonna show that we (indians/asians) will stick to foreign cars (honda/toyota/nissan) anyway. and so rather than waste money on market research, i would just count on the fact that we will buy these cars and put money into having better deals. i think market research in this situation would only prove useful if the sales of these vehicles to asian americans is falling. which honestly, probably will NEVER be the case, seeing as how being asian we will support our asian (and generally more reliable) brands over american (generally unreliable) brands.

    • Hi Aditya-

      So the idea is not that they should show the family of Asian Americans as a way to draw in more Asian Americans to buy their cars, because as you’ve said, we’ll always be buying Toyotas. The point is that they should diversify what it means to be American, aka a whole mess of cultures. Americans are not just black or white and so why do advertisers think that way? I mean, would it have been so crazy to have a cool Asian family in their commercial?

      By having the cool American family in their commercial, they aren’t selling any more cars to Americans either, merely saying that the cool hip families in America are white and driving a Toyota.

      Thanks for the comment!
      -Sai

      • They wouldn’t show indian families because we don’t do what those “cool, hip” American families in those commercials do. Also, as assimilated Asian Americans we can relate to the use of an American or African American in the commercial more than they would be able to relate to an Indian American or Asian American on TV. It just isn’t cost effective. As an indian kid i can relate to white kids easier than they can relate to me. Similar logic. Also, we arent ridiculous enough to actually do the stuff that those families did in that commercial. And I disagree, I think commercials like this are convincing MORE americans to buy NON american cars, than they are NonAmericans to buy Non American cars.

  3. You’re totally right, in that it would be the smart play for marketers. But once they started looking what would they find?

    My guess is they’d find a bunch of dotted Urban Hustlers, dotted Nerds, dotted tuned-out Hipsters, and dotted blue collars (blue polkadots?)– in other words enough of a diversity to lump us into other categories which they’re already doing.

    I might be totally wrong about this, and it would be really interesting if I was, but I really wonder whether the dots have the pop culture cohesion to draw this kind of attention. It’s definitely coming but is it here yet?

    P.S. Great post!

    • Hey Gautam-

      You know, we might be “dotted” versions of something, but I think that ‘dot’ plays a huge role whether we are aware of it or not. We are still governed (pretty strongly) by our Indian backgrounds. For instance, how many Universities now have a Bhangra team which competes. At least at Northeastern there wasn’t anything as Anglo-centric that could rival the Bhangra team.

      I think our “dotted” ideals still govern a lot of how we shop and our attitudes. We are unique in comparison to those of Euro/African origins because our generation is still much closer to our mother land’s roots. Its also up to our generation to preserve what we perceive to be important cultural values, and so I think as a result, we think about them more.

      Thanks for commenting!!!

      -V.

      • I am kind of playing devil’s advocate because I attended for 4.5 years at a University with a big SA population, and lived an active SA-aware life completely unaware of the goings-on of our bhangra team.

        But I agree with you; there’s a groundswell of activity in SAA culture that can seemingly only go up. It’s a large and monied demographic that’s culturally tight knit.

        I was thinking about this post when I found this neato infographic from the NYT breaking down the birthplaces of the foreign-born US labor force. It doesn’t address generational considerations you bring up, but it’s mad interesting. It looks like that Sienna should be full of Filipino twenty-somethings pulling up to an Indian restaurant, or vice versa.
        [Flash] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/04/07/us/20090407-immigration-occupation.html

  4. Marvelous article. It absolutely speaks to the need to go beyond what often feels like a binary understanding of markets. While I understand the need (psychological, not functional) of businesses to simply populations to the point of near stereotyping, it inevitably means stripping away anything meaningful and creating marketing campaigns that devalue or simply ignore large swaths of the national framework. Even populations that do find representation are caricatures — no one living in the suburbs are tattooed, all “Hispanic” beer drinkers respond to images of Mexican soccer, etc.

    I would add to the list of campaigns that are changing the dynamic the Fiber One ads. Granted, they are meant to be funny and therefore there are people who will no doubt find offense in them, but the point is that the key characters are meant to step outside the stereotypes so often represented. There are, of course, elements of identity politics, but the roles of the key players a more varied than they would be in most ads, which reflects an in interesting awareness of the cultural shifts taking place in the US.

    A great deal has been written about levels of acculturation and the ongoing shift from ethnic dominant/subordinate cultural patterns (typically focusing on that all-too-vague moniker of “Hispanic”) to bicultural or multicultural patterns. Not enough is being written about how this shift will reshape key issues in marketing, the role of language, and the continuation of aspirational advertising.

    What this means for companies reaching out to the Other is that the would-be consumer target is in the process of becoming something entirely new. Targeting these evolving consumers will no doubt lead to increased awareness and profits, but understanding them, reaching them and determining how they fit into a broader business strategy is decidedly complex and requires an educated approach. (Yes, this can be taken as a pitch for including anthropologists in a company’s organizational framework.)

    As the markets grow, mature and becomes fixtures of the larger American experience, the question is less about whether or not ethnic and subcultural markets are viable and a point of growth. Instead, it is about uncovering how we respond in the long term. Inevitably, as companies increase their presence in a wider range of markets, they in turn change their nature and help create something new. We see it in holidays every year – St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and Cinco de Mayo have been and are in a state of continual transformation, just like the people celebrating them. Products and services, I would contend, are much the same. It is the companies who can think creatively and act quickly that will succeed in this newly developing conversation and approach to understanding.

    Again, marvelous article and a perspective that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  5. […] early in my Le Sigh Blogging career I talked about the inclusion of other ethnicities aka D-List Minorities in the marketing conversation. One of my readers made the point of noting that you know […]

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