Diversity marketing gains steam in central Indiana: Ad agencies helping convey cultural revelancy

July 11, 2005

Ethnic or diversity marketing, once confined to major cities such as Dallas, New York and Los Angeles, is taking hold in Indianapolis.

"We have seen a gradual but growing response among clients to communicate to a multicultural audience," said Clyde Bodkin, president of locally based Bodkin Associates Inc. "Not everyone is in the same place, but smart companies are finding culturally sensitive, culturally relevant ways to communicate to their target markets."

Diversity marketing is the fastest-growing sector of Bodkin's 14-person agency, he said. More than 30 percent of the company's $8.1 million in billings comes from diversity marketing. Bodkin is the agency of record for locally based Asian American Alliance, Indianapolis Black Chamber of Commerce and Indianapolis Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Clients such as Eli Lilly and Co. Inc., Dow AgroSciences and Fifth Third Bank also are using culturally sensitive advertising and marketing campaigns, Bodkin said.

"It used to just be the larger multinational companies that were doing this type of marketing," Bodkin said. "Now we're seeing it from some retailers and service-providers and state and government agencies who need to get their message out."

Marketing to the Hispanic community is by far the fastest-growing, Bodkin said, adding that "most of that business has begun in the last two years."

Bruce Bryant, president of locally based Promotus Advertising, has seen recent growth in marketing to blacks and Hispanics. Promotus hired a Hispanic advertising specialist four years ago.

Bryant said the market has grown in fits and starts, adding there is still much misunderstanding locally.

"We're still slow and behind the times," he said. "We're just starting to awaken to the possibilities here in Indianapolis."

Bryant said marketing to minority groups is more involved than placing ads in targeted publications or TV and radio programs. And it's not just about translating language, Bodkin added.

"If a company decides to cross the threshold to diversity marketing, why not take the time to understand the culture and hit the sweet spot?" said Bryant, also Indianapolis Ad Club immediate past president. "You have to connect your message to emotional drivers. That's impossible to do if you don't understand the culture of your audience."

Locally based Cabello Associates is another firm that has seen growth in diversity marketing. But Cabello President Kathy G. Cabello, who formerly worked in agencies in Texas and South Florida, said there are still misconceptions in the local business community.

"Companies are still trying to determine what outreach means to them," Cabello said. "Awareness is certainly growing here. But awareness and action are two different things."

She is seeing the most growth in diversity marketing in life sciences and health care.

Misconceptions, Bryant said, lead to questions about return on investment to reaching Asians, blacks and Hispanics.

Many advertisers, marketers said, think there are too few Asians in central Indiana to target. Blacks and Hispanics are viewed as low-wage earners with limited expendable income.

"We have to work to change those perceptions," said Roberto Curci, president of the Indianapolis Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "I don't think many businesses have taken the time to analyze the contributions made by these groups."

Marketers said each group has its merits and all are growing in numbers in central Indiana. The most recent census showed there are 256,000 blacks, making up 27 percent of the metro population, and 50,000 Hispanics. But Bryant and Curci said the estimated number of Hispanics is low. Curci said there are 100,000 locally.

Asians are a smaller group, but marketers said they have high education levels and income that make them attractive to advertisers.

Hispanics are the most lucrative untapped market, Bryant said. Recent studies by his firm show the average income for Hispanics is nearly $35,000 and the average age is 26, about 15 years below the overall local population.

"This is an audience that has proven to be brand-sensitive and brand-loyal, and whose prime income earning and spending years are in front of them," Bryant said. "They're going to be an important economic driver in this community for years to come."

From left, Patty Salmeron, Clyde Bodkin and Jim Walton have seen marketing to ethnic groups grow significantly the last two years at locally based Bodkin Associates Inc.
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