Communicating with the Multicultural Consumer: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives

Kirk Hazlett (Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 27 June 2008




Hazlett, K. (2008), "Communicating with the Multicultural Consumer: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 261-262.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Communicating with the Multicultural Consumer by Barbara Mueller, PhD, Professor of Advertising in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University, is not for the casual reader. However, for the communication professional – advertising, marketing, or public relations – it is a wealth of facts and figures that can be invaluable in developing a program that will reach today's burgeoning ethnic markets.

Why is the information provided in this book important, and why should today's communicators pay heed? “The US census population projections estimate that [Hispanic, African American, and Asian American ethnic groups] will comprise half of the total US population by the year 2050” (p. XIX).

Why is this significant “surprisingly, the size and power of the ethnic market are not yet reflected in the strategic thinking of many American businesses today” (p. 20).

Mueller structures her book into eight meaty chapters ranging from “The Growth of Multicultural Markets” (Ch. 1) to “Ethics and Social Responsibility” (Ch. 8). Three chapters (4, 5, and 6) address specific ethnic populations (Hispanic, African‐American, and Asian‐American respectively) with numerous charts and graphs to strengthen her case for the importance of these populations.

Three excerpted statements lend serious credence to her observations:

  1. 1.

    “Hispanic buying power is projected to hit $863.1 billion in 2007 … (Solis, 2006).” (p. 121) “In 2008, Hispanics will account for 9.6 percent of all US buying power” (p. 16).

  2. 2.

    “Marketers are keen to get their hands on the more than $760 billion that black consumers currently spend annually … By 2009, the buying power is expected to reach $965 billion” (p. 179).

  3. 3.

    “Asian American spending power will reach $579 billion by 2010, an increase of nearly 400 percent since 1990” (pp. 222‐223).

The problem, says the author in chapter 2, “The Multicultural Consumer and the Marketing Mix,” is that most marketers have taken a band‐aid approach to their multicultural outreach. “A recent investigation found that nearly 50 percent of both the Hispanics and African‐Americans surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘very little, if any, of the marketing and advertising that I see has any relevance to me’” (p. 34).

One telling example cited by the author is that of direct marketing, which woefully misses the mark. “While the average Anglo‐American receives some three hundred pieces of direct mail each year, the average Asian‐American receives a mere one hundred (Yorgey, 1999). And Hispanic households receive even fewer direct mail pieces – just twenty per year (Barbagallo, 2003)” (p. 42).

Chapter 3, “The Influence of Culture in Marketing and Advertising to Multicultural Consumers,” is a thorough examination of how one's cultural upbringing impacts the entire purchase experience. “Culture influences why we buy. It impacts our attitudes toward consumption and our shopping behavior, what we choose to purchase, and even where we choose to purchase it” (p. 90).

Such factors as race and even sex must be recognized and understood. Not only must the marketer be able to identify the types of stores frequented by a particular ethnic group; he or she must be aware of who in the family group makes purchase decisions. “In some cultures, the female holds the pursestrings, while, in others, it is the male” (p. 98).

Chapter 4, “Reaching Hispanic Consumers,” leads off with an examination of where specific Hispanic populations live. “Three‐fourths of Mexican Americans live in Texas and California, two‐thirds of Puerto Ricans live in the Northeast (mostly in New York and New Jersey), and two‐thirds of Cuban Americans live in Florida” (p. 112).

Once the populations have been located, though, the task of which communication medium to use arises. Traditional print media have not proven particularly effective in reaching ethnic audiences. “Eighty‐seven percent of whites sampled reported reading a daily newspaper, in comparison to 53 percent of blacks and 42 percent of Hispanics … [including] the Sunday newspaper, the newspaper day in which the majority of coupons are distributed” (pp. 35‐36)/

The good news, as it relates to the Hispanic audience, is that “Hispanic TV viewership just keeps on growing … [The] average prime‐time viewing per week, at 17 hours, is a full 30 percent more than the average of all US households, at thirteen hours (‘Hispanic Consumers,’ 2002)” (p. 130).

“Reaching African American Consumers” (Ch. 4) identifies several differences between this ethnic grouping and others, not the least of which is that “African‐Americans are keenly protective of their cultural heritage and perhaps more critical of assimilation than other ethnic groups” (p. 160).

More to the point from a marketing perspective, says the author, “That this sensitivity exists, across the board and even at the highest social strata and economic brackets, may be difficult for white marketers, who have never experienced exclusion based on race or color, to understand” (p. 160).

Mueller identifies one marked difference in marketing to the African‐American audience, noting “community involvement is very important to African‐American consumers. And one of the best ways for marketers to appeal … is to support cause‐related programs that help the communities where African‐Americans reside” (p. 166).

The author emphasizes once again the necessity of recognizing this audience as a unique population. “[T]he illusion that blacks and whites can be reached via identical advertisements through the same media is simply a myth, and marketers who ignore this crucial reality do so at their own risk” (pp. 182‐183).

The third major ethnic population is discusses in chapter 4, “Reaching Asian‐American Consumers.” This group, which experienced a growth rate more than four times that of the total US population between 1990 and 2000, has increased faster than any other ethnic group since 2000.

One targeting advantage that the Asian‐American population offers marketers is that “half of Asian‐Americans live in just three states [California, Texas, and New York], and nearly three‐quarters (74 percent) live in the top ten American states” (p. 209).

Yet another distinct advantage for marketers of American products is the Asia‐American's strong preference for American brands. “[B]ack in Asia, purchasing American brands is a sign of prestige … when these immigrants come to the United States, they bring with them a marked preference for the American brands they previously bought in Asia” (p. 224).

Mueller cautions marketers not to discount the relatively smaller‐sized Asian‐American population. “Asian‐Americans may be just one‐third the size of the Hispanic population, but their combined buying clout is well over half of that of Hispanics” (pp. 229‐230).

A final point when identifying media to reach the Asian‐American audience: “It is estimated that 82 percent of Asian American households will be online by the end of 2007, compared to 69 percent or African American households and 68 percent of Hispanic households” (p. 244).

In closing the chapter on Asian‐American consumers, a distinctly “wired” audience, Mueller notes that, “In terms of buyer behavior, nearly 31 percent of online Asians have made five or more internet purchases in a year, compared to 25.8 percent for whites, 13.8 percent for Hispanics, and 12.3 percent for African Americans” (p. 246).

Chapter 7, “Advertising Agencies and Multicultural Consumers,” examines the structure of the advertising and related services industries. The author points out that, in terms of mirroring the ethnic population of the US, “while Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian‐Americans make up 14 percent, 13 percent, and nearly 5 percent of the US population respectively, in general market advertising and related services, only the Asian population matches the nation's in percentage terms” (p. 252).

This is not to say, however, that this disparity has “prohibited some of these shops from developing highly effective advertising that touches ethnic consumers” (p. 256). On the contrary, examples abound of tightly‐focused advertising that speaks clearly and effectively to a particular ethnic consumer group.

Mueller's closing chapter, “Ethics and Social Responsibility,” speaks to the quandary of what's “fair” in marketing to ethnic audiences. How strongly should one play the “race” card in promoting products and services?

According to the author, “while most marketers and advertisers typically have little difficulty in making the correct [ethical] decision with regard to health and safety issues, many other situations have no easy solutions and must be handled on a case‐by‐case basis” (p. 278).

One particular area of concern, as pointed out by Mueller, is that of “social responsibility issues, such as the failure to translate public interest information in the languages of the ethnic groups (such as antismoking campaigns)” (p. 278).

Mueller closes out her final chapter on ethics and corporate social responsibility by stating: “In the marketplace today, the combination of ethics and corporate social responsibility isn't just a ‘nice thing’ but rather a ‘must have’ (‘CSR No Longer,’ 2004)” (p. 308).

“Communicating with the Multicultural Consumer” by Barbara Mueller is not an easy read, but having digested the wealth of facts, figures, statistics and other information, the savvy marketer/reader will be armed with a comprehensive awareness of the challenges … and the mind‐boggling opportunities … that lie ahead.

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