Selling Ethnicity Inc.

  • Author GUY GARCIA explores how America's minorities are redefining the mass market in The New Mainstream, How the Multicultural Consumer Is Transforming American Business (HarperCollins; 320 pages). The new book highlights how smart businesses are adapting:

    America is a nation transformed by the fulfillment of its own ideals. Never has its population and culture been more vibrant, diverse or connected to the rest of the world. The country is no longer defined, and shaped, exclusively by white Anglo-Saxons but increasingly by African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans. This New Mainstream is transforming how America will work, play, learn and spend in the coming decades. Any company or institution that fails to understand it will be left behind.

    A New Buying Power
    The numbers are hard to dispute. Today the 80 million blacks, Hispanics and Asians living in the U.S. make up more than one-quarter of the country; by 2050, non-Anglos will have grown to 47.2% of the population. The buying power of African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans is increasing faster than that of white households. By 2009, the buying power of Latinos, already the nation's largest ethnic group, will reach $992 billion, eclipsing that of African Americans, whose buying power will rise to $965 billion.

    As a group, the nation's non-Anglo minorities buy more consumer goods than the general population and are more brand loyal than the Anglo majority. A survey conducted in 2003 by the Department of Commerce shows that African Americans outspend Hispanics on books, contributions, education, health care, household furnishings, housing, insurance and media, while Hispanics spend more on alcoholic beverages, consumer electronics, housewares, sports and toys. Though Madison Avenue has largely yet to realize it, the New Mainstream is not limited to people of color. According to Global Advertising Strategies, a New York City — based marketing consultancy, Central and East European Americans, many of whom are non-English-speaking immigrants, constitute the third largest U.S. ethnic market, commanding some $400 billion in spending power.

    Group Think
    Even if the growing economic clout of minority groups is clear, the most efficient way to reach them is anything but. U.S. Latinos, for example, are not a single monolithic group but rather a plethora of nationalities and ethnic extractions. Some of them, especially those born in the U.S., are mainly English speaking and take their cultural cues from the general mass media. Others, particularly immigrants, are more likely to speak Spanish.

    Among African Americans, the two biggest potential markets are very different — middle-class professionals and urban youth. Likewise, the term Asian American lumps together Chinese, Japanese, South Asians and Vietnamese, with religious traditions ranging from Buddhism to Hinduism to Islam. Mass merchandisers, mindful that between 1990 and 2000 the percentage of Americans who classify themselves as Christian dropped from 86% to 76.5%, are adding ethnic notes to their holiday blessings. J.C. Penney and the U.S. Post Office are making sure their season's greetings include images of Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Ramadan. Sears even produced an ad that featured an Asian Santa Claus.

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