Newcastle University Business School

Ethnic marketing attracts the multicultural millen

Ethnic marketing attracts the multicultural millennial

The global revolution has opened up opportunities for big brands to target new customers all over the world.

The sizeable band of millennials – many of whom are of mixed ethnicity, embrace diversity and have more than one cultural identity – is a lucrative market for the likes of Adidas, L’Oréal and other popular high-street names.

Although millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation that has ever existed, little is known about their interpretation of portrayals of ethnicity in advertising – a subject that is explored in new research conducted by Newcastle University Business School.

The study explores how individuals of this generation living in multicultural Britain perceive ethnic advertising, and how their interpretations influence their well-being and their idea of how they fit into society.

Not only could the findings help marketing specialists create tailored campaigns to target this important group of consumers, they also shed light on key issues of public attention and concern for policymakers who want to foster a greater culture of inclusivity in society.

In-depth interviews were conducted with an ethnically diverse sample of 23 millennial individuals in the UK, including those of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Polish origin. The first part of the interviews consisted of questions about the participants’ background, their understanding of social inclusion and their experience of living as ethnic individuals in a primarily white country.

Participants were then asked to recall instances when ethnic marketing campaigns had made an impression on them and were invited to discuss their thoughts and feelings about these campaigns. Finally, they were shown a series of adverts that portrayed ethnicity and were asked to voice their instinctive feelings about the ones that they found particularly interesting. The adverts were a mix of mono-ethnic (those that used mono-ethnic primes as cultural representations from one ethnic background that specifically targeted an ethnic group) and multi-ethnic (those that used multi-ethnic primes as cultural representations from more than one ethnic background to simultaneously reach ethnically diverse target audiences).

The results showed that millennials were far more inclined to respond positively to multi-ethnic adverts that promoted inclusivity and an acceptance of multiculturalism and seemed to be a genuine attempt to represent ethnic diversity. They felt that by shunning ethnic stereotypes, this type of advert successfully managed to erase ethnic barriers and inspire positive connections between diverse ethnic groups.

In contrast, mono-ethnic marketing was criticised for using unwelcome generalisations and misleading stereotypical portrayals, such as the use of models wearing traditional ethnic attire. When commenting on an advert featuring a typical Japanese model garbed in a kimono and eating sushi, one respondent compared it to dressing a British man in a traditional Victorian jacket and wig to emphasis his ‘Britishness’.

The study also highlighted the importance of natural and realistic portrayals of ethnicity in marketing campaigns. Some participants expressed negative feelings towards adverts which seemed to overemphasise the themes of equality and diversity. A multi-ethnic campaign run by Adidas, which contained the straplines “equality is love” and “equality is acceptance”, was deemed a deliberate attempt to promote the company as a politically correct brand, rather than an authentic effort to champion social inclusion. Millennials, the study suggests, are adept at identifying whether a company is simply trying to persuade consumers to part with their money or making a genuine attempt to foster a spirit of equality and diversity.

Retailers, marketing managers and policymakers could all benefit from the research, which shines a light on the importance of wider societal issues in corporate communications. From a managerial perspective, it provides some useful insights into the attitudes of the global millennial customer which could increase the effectiveness of communications strategies aimed at this important market.

Tana Licsandru, Lecturer in Marketing at Newcastle University London, says: “Millennials are an increasingly influential group with plenty of disposable income and buying power. They account for around one quarter of the UK population alone, so it makes sense for brands to do everything in their power to target this key market. Our study suggests that if brands want to be successful, they should put a stronger emphasis on social inclusion in their marketing and advertising campaigns.

“The research showed that some ethnic millennials refused to buy from brands that made them feel excluded from society. Some said they had unfollowed a brand on social media for the same reason. A negative backlash on powerful channels such as Facebook and Twitter is potentially dangerous for brands; it could result in lost customers, not just from ethnic millennials but also from people who have been influenced by the adverse reaction to an advert on social media.

“To counter this, brands should consider practical measures that put social inclusion at the heart of their marketing strategies. For instance, they could avoid using explicit ethnic cues and generic stereotypes and instead produce adverts that portray ethnic models in normal, everyday situations. They could also use discourse that promotes the ideas of acceptance, belongingness, comfort, equality, respect and recognition – all concepts which indicate social inclusion.

“Companies could also consider employing staff from ethnic backgrounds who could provide culturally sensitive insights on how best to target ethnic millennials. Looking at the issue more broadly, firms could inform their creative strategies by working with other organisations, such as disability or LGBT+ groups, that are seeking to reduce social inequality.”

Aside from the corporate world of profit-making, policymakers may also benefit from the study.

“They could use the findings to consider ways of educating socially responsible marketing managers of the future,” says Dr Licsandru. “They could encourage universities, for example, to include multicultural marketing as a core module in their marketing and management courses.

“Early education in schools is also important. Could policymakers encourage schools to run lessons on multiculturalism and social inclusion so that children have a broader understanding of ethnicity and its place in society? This would help to tackle implicit social bias among the younger generations and reduce social prejudice in the long run.”

 Millennials are an increasingly influential group with plenty of disposable income and buying power. They account for around one quarter of the UK population alone...

Dr Tana Licsandru

Lecturer in Marketing