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Diversity Key Asset for US Businesses in Changing Marketplace - 2003-04-09

U.S. minorities are becoming increasingly visible in business and advertising, according to the author of a recent book on minorities, popular culture and business. American businesses see diversity as an asset in the pursuit of profit.

There are specialized African American magazines, radio stations and a popular cable network called Black Entertainment Television, but analyst Leon Wynter believes minority faces are seen as much in the mainstream media, from basketball great Shaquille O'Neal, an African American, to Jennifer Lopez, the Latino entertainer. And the models in magazine ads are just as likely today to be Asian as Caucasian.

It is part of the globalization of culture, said Mr. Wynter, the author of American Skin: Pop Culture, Big Business and the End of White America.

"What happened to America in general in the early 1980s was the discovery that, guess what, it's about the world and the world is not white. That discovery, that epiphany, was strengthened by the surge in immigration from Latin America and Asia that was also taking place in the 1980s," Mr. Wynter said.

Addressing a civic group called Town Hall Los Angeles, Mr. Wynter said smart marketers now recognize a burgeoning ethnic market, both in the United States and around the world.

In fact, he said, U.S. minorities helped to shape the new global culture. Marketers today target the worldwide audience with hip hop fashions and rap music, both products of the American urban ghetto.

The writer said the approach began with targeted marketing aimed at black consumers in the 1970s. "How corporations, like McDonalds as a perfect example, learned that trans-racial marketing would serve their entire market - the way they learned at first was that they had, like most of those companies, a certain small portion of their marketing and advertising budgets that went to create black-targeted advertising. But then, lo and behold, they began to find that some of their commercials, made by black ad agencies in those days, played exceedingly well with the 'general market,'" Mr. Wynter said.

Major marketers have also discovered Hispanics, but the Hispanic market is segmented, says sociologist Gregory Rodriguez. He notes that Hispanics come from various parts of Latin America, and although they speak the same language, they are culturally different. More importantly, he said, recent immigrants are more attuned to the Spanish media, while the second and third generations are more attuned to the dominant culture.

"We live in the most powerful popular culture in the history of mankind. And it is really naive to think that the children and grandchildren of immigrants, from no matter what country in the world, are immune to the seductive power of this pop culture," Mr. Rodriguez said.

Both analysts said more minority faces are now seen in advertising, as businesses realize that minority consumers have spending power. They said this realization has also led to more minorities in the companies that make and sell the products.

Sociologist Rodriguez said there are also more businesses in minority neighborhoods, providing products and services, as well as jobs. He said the changes are as profound as the changes brought by government 40 years ago. "In the 1960s, change came from legislation, from the public sector. The boundaries were crossed by government intervention. And I think what Leon's book really underlines is that the change is really coming from the private sector. It's coming from personal and market behavior," Mr. Rodriguez said.

These analysts said American society is going through radical changes as it becomes multicultural, and that old notions of race and ethnicity only obscure those changes. They said the country is no longer simply black and white.