A young, urban, well-educated and growing consumer group with £12bn of disposable income is like manna from heaven to marketeers.
But mainstream advertisers have been slow to target the UK’s burgeoning ethnic minorities and multicultural communities in their marketing strategies.
There are signs this is beginning to change as the ethnic and mainstream media are now being used to target multicultural consumers, but is it happening quickly enough?
If advertising does not pay attention to ethnic minorities, businesses could be miss significant market opportunities.
Black Enterprise magazine reveals US advertisers spent $1.1bn in 1999 on targeting African Americans, representing less than 1% of the $215.2bn in total US advertising revenues.
But the figure is a huge 112% increase in the category since 1995.
Ethnic advertising in the UK has the potential to exceed this level of growth as the market is still in its infancy.
The UK’s ethnic population is growing by 2.5% a year with half of the UK’s 3m-strong population living in London. Overall, the group’s disposable income is valued at £12bn.
The UK ethnic community is well educated and younger than the UK average.
University graduates make up 21% of the UK ethnic minority population, compared with 16% of the white population.
The booming ethnic cosmetics and toiletries market – which is expected to grow in value from £77.2m in 1999 to £177.8m by 2004 – is the most developed ethnic marketing sector in the UK.
Growth has been spurred on by a rapidly expanding consumer base and product range, with US products quickly crossing the Atlantic.
In the UK, the main medium in which ethnic cosmetics and toiletries are advertised are Afro-Caribbean magazines such as Black Beauty & Hair, Black Hair and Pride.
But the sheer volume of advertisements in these magazines makes it hard for a brand to stand out from the crowd.
There are only two “black” cable TV channels in the UK – BVTV and the Afro-Caribbean channel.
Asian media is well developed in the UK across print, TV and radio.
TV channels such as Zee TV and B4U are aimed at the British Asian community, while Sony’s SET is beamed into the UK in the same form it is broadcast in India.
But the variety of Asian networks has disadvantaged potential advertisers because the penetration of any one channel is limited.
Zee TV, the most popular Asian channel, has rarely featured mainstream advertisers but there are signs this trend is changing as the value of the potential audience is realised.
In an attempt to replicate the Afro-Caribbean beauty success story, Asian Woman and Bride launched last year and aim to be the equivalent of Vogue for Asian women.
But while Asians and Afro-Caribbeans may favour companies owned by members of their own community, non-ethnic manufacturers have recognised this client base has huge potential and have started targeting its needs.
Many mainstream advertisers have been reluctant to use actors from ethnic minority groups for fear of causing offence to the group in question or alienating the white majority.
There is a growing trend towards using Afro-Caribbean and Asian actors in ads but, as a recent Independent Television Commission report highlighted, advertisers do not always do this successfully.
The report found people from ethnic minorities felt advertising did not reflect the cultural diversity of the UK and objected strongly to stereotypes which could, even if unintentionally, encourage racial stereotyping.
Now mainstream marketeers are beginning to realise the value of the UK’s ethnic population, they must work hard to earn the brand loyalty of all of their customers.