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Advertisers Adjust to Growth of Foreign-Language Media in US - 2002-10-31


The proliferation of foreign-language media in the United States is opening up new markets for advertisers who want to cash in on the growing influence and purchasing power of immigrant communities. Advertisers have to adapt their message for the audience.

Recent surveys show mainstream English-language media in the United States are losing readers and viewers while foreign-language media are gaining an audience.

Ronnie Lipton, author of Designing Across Cultures says that is no accident. "In 10 years from now, half of all U.S. residents under 21 will be a member of an ethnic group," said Ronnie Lipton. "Between the 1990 and 2000 census - and the census figures are what a lot of advertisers are looking at for their reason for spending money in ethnic areas. The U.S. Hispanic population has grown by 57.9 percent, more than half; the Asian-American community by 48.3 percent; the African-American and Black community by 15.6 percent."

In contrast, the Caucasian population in the United States has grown by less than 6 percent.

Newseum Managing Editor Margaret Engel says many organizations now opt to place their job ads in ethnic newspapers. "When California wanted to hire teachers, instead of going to the LA Times and the Fresno Bee and running ads, they instead bought a package with ethnic media throughout the state," said Margaret Engel. "And they found they had much better returns than they ever had with the so-called majority media because people of the ethnic groups are reading this media more intently.

Ms. Engel points out that the source of information for U.S. residents has multiplied in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of ethnic news outlets. And that, she says, opens up new markets for advertisers and politicians to get their message out. "No longer do we have the whole population sitting down on Saturday night and watching the same shows," she said. "So the jokes, the culture, the news, all the information sharing that used to be done by the daily newspaper or the network television show has gone by the wayside and it's quite fractionated now."

As journalism professor, Ronnie Lipton, puts it, one size no longer fits all. So, she says, advertisers need to understand the culture they want to target. "When you're working with a group that you're not a member of, have not been born into, in particular what tends to happen is people will revert to stereotypes not meaning to insult, not meaning to offend but that is their understanding of another ethnic community if they're not very familiar with it," she said.

Without careful planning, mistakes can happen. Years ago Chevrolet Autos advertised its NOVA series in Hispanic communities without changing the name. They thought its Spanish sound would work well. The ads were a flop. "No va" in Spanish means it does not go something a car company would not want to communicate to potential buyers.

Many national companies and advertisers now use ethnic marketing agencies that specialize in immigrant communities to avoid such errors.

Author Ronnie Lipton sees the growing influence of immigrant styles on mainstream American culture too. "We're seeing a growing influence of the Hispanic population in the U.S. in music and fashion throughout the community," said Ronnie Lipton. "They also have a strong because they're now the largest ethnic group - influence on politics and that will be changing more and more."

Ms. Lipton calls it a wake-up call for politicians and business executives who have been slow to adjust to the growing diversity of the U.S. population.

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