Demos Are Difficult To Define

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

When it comes to targeting African American media buys, the process on Madison Avenue isn’t always, well, black and white.
While African Americans are one of the largest ethnic groups, it’s not always clear exactly what “African American media” is. Unlike other ethnic groups whose media preferences are clearly delineated by language, African Americans read, watch and listen to the much of the same media as the general population.
If African American media options are a bit fuzzy, so are the approaches for managing them. Many marketers simply use their general market advertising agencies, while others employ multicultural specialist shops to create ads and develop media strategies for targeting African Americans.
When it comes to actually executing those media buys, some marketers depend on the media services divisions of their general market agencies, while others have begun tapping media buying specialists that focus exclusively on the African American marketplace.
“On the one hand, you have all of your general market media specialists, agencies like MindShare, or OMD or Carat or Mediaedge:cia, that buy a lot of African American media because their clients target African Americans, and they use their general market agencies to do it. On the other hand, you’ve got African American specialty agencies like Burrell Communications, UniWorld or Carol Williams Advertising that specialize in making ads for the African American marketplace. But a lot of them don’t necessarily handle the buying,” said Monica Gadsby, CEO of Tapestry, a Chicago-based unit of Starcom MediaVest Group that specializes in buying multicultural media.
Tapestry is a kind of minority itself. It is one of the few media agencies to actually specialize in targeting ethnic media buys.
“To my knowledge, Tapestry and Unity Media are the only two entities in the country that call themselves African American media specialists,” Ms. Gadsby said.
Bob Tassie, president of New York-based Unity, agreed.
“It’s not surprising when you understand how the business evolved,” said Mr. Tassie, who founded Unity in 1991. “Ten years ago, what you ran into was a marketing budget that was dispersed for general market media and the ethnic market media, but it was all being handled by the general market agency. It was just more efficient for the general market agency to make the buys because they were handling so much of the client’s other business.”
The problem, Mr. Tassie said, is that the general market shops don’t always understand the nuances that can make a difference on media buys aimed at blacks. And it means not only making sure that the ads run in the right media, but in making sure they also are the right ads.
Ms. Gadsby agreed, noting many examples of general market “creative”-ads created to reach a mainstream audience-that run in black-targeted media. Occasionally the inverse happens, and ads targeted at African Americans run in general market media buys.
“Burrell handles McDonald’s creative and the media planning, but OMD is handling the media buying,” she said. “I happen to know for a fact that Burrell creative is running in African American media, but it’s also running in general market media like `Friends.”’
While it is not necessarily a bad thing for African American ads to run in general market media buys, specialists said it can be inefficient if not properly thought out. For example, Unity’s Mr. Tassie said he has recommended that African American ads be placed in ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” one of the highest-rated general market media buys-and one of the most expensive-because the index among African American viewers was high enough to justify it on a cost-efficiency basis.
In fact, Mr. Tassie took an even more extreme view, noting that general market agencies often buy shows like “Monday Night Football” to reach African Americans but make the mistake of running general market ads in those spots. “They’re not making the best use of the buy,” he said.
Clearly, there is more gray area, but the practice is likely to get even more complicated as the complexity of the media marketplace increases and as the complexion of the African American market begins to change.
For one thing, blacks are not one homogenous subset of the American population. While African Americans do account for the majority of that population, emigration of Caribbean and Haitian blacks to the United States is growing in faster numbers, forcing multicultural specialists to change the way they look at the black audience.
Meanwhile, some media shops have become responsible for more than just buying media that reaches consumers. As the field of media planning morphs into the science of communications planning, planners aim to reach consumers at the right time and place and in a frame of mind where they will be culturally attuned to the messages they receive.
That practice is sometimes referred to as contextual media planning, and a few big agencies, including Tapestry’s parent Starcom MediaVest Group, have dozens of contextual planners working for their general market media accounts. “We’re looking at doing that too,” said Ms. Gadsby, adding, “We have to, because our clients are asking us to.”