Marketing Authentically to Minority Cultures and other Subgroups

Pride Weekend in San Diego is upon us, and as the offices of Oster and Associates are located right in Hillcrest, the enthusiasm for the upcoming weekend devoted to celebrating authenticity is palpable. Since June 26, when the Supreme Court of the United States declared same-sex marriage legal in all states, we have seen an outpouring of support for the LGBT community, even from national brands. Of course, many companies were early supporters of equality, taking a public stand to promote fairness in the workplace and beyond. There are also companies that saw the movement as a marketing opportunity. However some were more tactful than others in how to target the LGBT community.

Marketing to subgroups is nothing new; the tobacco industry caught on very early to niche marketing and began to target specific demographics such as young adults in the 1970s. Around this time, tobacco industries also were paying attention to the trends of different ethnic groups, including the Hispanic community. They concluded that the Spanish-speaking population was not being effectively marketed toward, which meant an opportunity to gain more business, so brands including Philip Morris began to tailor campaigns specifically to Hispanic populations in the 1970s and 1980s.

Targeting subgroups can be especially effective in generating positive responses to your product, as addressing a minority group gives it validity, or group legitimacy, and makes the constituents feel as though they belong to an important subgroup. The key, however, is to be authentic in how we approach marketing to minority populations.

In terms of marketing to Hispanic populations, Chiqui Cartagena, VP of corporate marketing for Univision Communications, says brands can make mistakes in advertising by not being educated properly about their target subgroups, making assumptions or not adequately researching their target market beforehand. The same logic can be applied to the LGBT community, or any subgroup a brand hopes to target. There are certainly many good and bad examples of niche marketing out there today.

Samantha Allen cited Maytag as a brand that took an inappropriate approach to marketing to the LGBT community by debuting the Maytag Man on Twitter holding a six-layer rainbow cake with the caption “Proud to be in any home.” Other brands, such as American Airlines, turned their social media logos or tweeted out contrived hashtags. This type of marketing or social support from brands has become coined “rainbow-washing,” a nod to the term “pinkwashing,” which references the poorly thought-through publicity campaigns of brands in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month; simply making everything within your catalog pink, or rainbow-colored, doesn’t always equate to a successful marketing campaign. It is also often seen as inauthentic.

What could Maytag have done better? How about simply showing a same-sex couple shopping for a new appliance in an ad? “If companies could simply include LGBT people in their promotional material at more or less representative rates instead of churning out rainbow junk and tinkering with our emotions, that might be the most revolutionary outcome of all,” says Allen in her Daily Beast piece. Authenticity is the key, not a rainbow-colored filter or a line of rainbow-striped sneakers.

In considering how to authentically market your project to the LGBT community or any other niche market your company wants to target, there are a few items your marketing plan must include. You need the support and commitment to the plan by your entire company responsible for the implementation of the plan. You need a client or prospective database. You need a system to track your prospects, leads, proposals and retention rates. You need the proper recourses to devote to an authentic campaign. And you need a designated employee, a champion, who will have the ultimate responsibility of leading the implementation of the campaign and maintaining that the message is researched, authentic, and resonates with your target subgroup.

The ultimate takeaway in targeting any type of subgroup, whether it’s a demographic, a cultural group, an ethnic group, a gender, or any other niche, is to be authentic in your approach and create a marketing campaign based on research and not on assumptions or stereotypes.


Additional sources:

A Historical Review of R. J. Reynolds’ Strategies for Marketing Tobacco to Hispanics in the United States. Iglesias-Rios, Lisbeth, MA, MPH; Parascandola, Mark, PhD, MPH. American Journal of Public Health 103.5  (May 2013): E15-E27.

Expand Your Horizons: Niche Marketing Success Stories. Caragher, Jean Marie. Journal of Accountancy 205.4  (Apr 2008): 56-59,10.

Has Marketing To LGBT Consumers Become Mainstream? Tell Me More Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio. (Aug 15, 2012).

Marketing To Latinos: ‘We Don’t Fit Into A Box’. Tell Me More Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio. (Oct 23, 2013).


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