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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Advertisers miss out on ethnic pound
Advertisers are missing out on a huge potential market by failing to communicate properly with black and Asian people, according to a new report.

Chosen from the ranks of the Halifax banking department, Howard has become the embodiment of the brand...

The combined disposable income of ethnic minorities in the UK is 32bn, according to trade body the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

But businesses are often guilty of ignoring specialist ethnic media and failing to reflect minority cultures in mainstream advertising, it said.

The IPA is launching a campaign - backed by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell - to raise awareness of ethnic minority issues in the UK advertising industry.


In a report, it singles out BT as a brand that successfully reflects "the social mix of its potential customers" in its ads.

Brixton shoppers
I used to spend time wishing I was white, and I don't want my daughter growing up the same
Halifax's advertising, featuring Howard Brown, who was chosen from the bank's employees, is also praised.

But Jonathan Mildenhall, co-chairman of the IPA's Ethnic Diversity Project, said there were not enough examples of genuine diversity.

"Take away the football stars, the celebrities, the sportsmen and the amount of black faces you see in British advertising are few and far between.

"Yet in London, the area that enjoys the greatest level of advertising communication, 32% of people are of ethnic minority origin.

"We must embrace this community. Not only as people with cash to spend but as people interesting enough and appealing enough to appear in ads themselves."

Thin line

The IPA also calls on the advertising industry to work harder to attract more ethnic minority employees.

Bayer's ad was offensive to some Hindus
It found that only 4% of marketing communications industry staff come from ethnic minorities, of which 70% are in support disciplines such as IT and finance.

Advertisers often walk a thin line between reflecting a culture and insulting it.

In one example of a campaign backfiring, employment agency Reed was forced to withdraw a TV commercial which featured a black recruitment consultant apparently mugging a white executive.

Reed argued it was playing with racial stereotypes, as the black man was in fact surreptitiously placing information about a job prospect in the white man's wallet, but this was rejected by the Broadcasting Standards Council.

TyPhoo tea was also forced to withdraw an ad featuring a fictitious Indian tea planter "Tommy Two Thumbs Fresh" after complaints.


Even the Commission for Racial Equality has fallen foul of the regulators.

Renault ad
Footballer Thierry Henry is the face of Renault
It was forced to withdraw a poster campaign featuring a picture of a black man with the tag line "Scared?", with the line "You should be, he's a dentist" underneath.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ad was more likely to reinforce stereotypes than overturn them.

Drug company Bayer had to withdraw an ad for its Alka XS hangover cure - which featured two people practising yoga with the word "rubbish" stamped across them - after complaints from Hindus.

The ASA recently warned advertisers about placing controversial billboard ads near churches and other religious sites.

'Brown pound'

Anjna Raheja, of PR agency Media Moguls, which specialises in targeting South Asian consumers, said advertisers had to become more "culturally sensitive" in their approach.

But she stressed there was a huge potential market for those that managed to get it right.

"In the same way that we have recognised a grey pound, and a pink pound, then actually there is a brown pound," she told BBC Radio Five's Wake Up to Money.

"And there are characteristics of that brown pound and the communities that make it up, that need to be understood and then targeted."

We asked if marketers are guilty of ignoring black and Asian people. And if racial stereotypes rife in advertising. Or if efforts to tap into ethnic minority markets are cynical and patronising. Here is a selection of your views.

Of course marketers are guilty of stereotyping; not just racially but pretty much every way you can think of. With a limited budget they have to reach as many people in their target audience as they can. The only way to do this cost-effectively is to stereotype. As to whether efforts to tap into ethnic minority markets are cynical and patronising, I think it is inevitable that early efforts are bound to be. You would be hard pushed to find a better example of 'cynical and patronising' than by looking back at the first adverts for washing powder and the like aimed at women. As more women have come into the industry, marketing to women has improved no end; let us hope that in a few years time, we can look back on today's advertising and say the same about ethnic minorities.
Andy, UK

In South Africa, the issue is more about the staff make-up of ad agencies ( as raised by one of your other readers), and the lack of training/incentive given to black people to move into this industry. The racial structure of SA is still much less relaxed than I think it is in the UK, but I have to agree with your reader that people from a certain culture will make ads that speak to people in that same culture - nothing could be sadder than a bunch of white guys making an ad tailored to appeal to a specific section of black culture - with the assistance of a "diversity consultant".
andy smallman, South Africa

Whether its serious news reading or jokey exploitation, everything that's broadcast nowadays is some form of sexy advert. And one of the white media's golden rules is that non-white people must only ever be allowed on mainstream telly if there's miscegenous jiggy-jig involved (or at least implied). The establishment's not concerned with identity or diversity or any other profound plebeian concern - just with making yet another desperate attempt to boost the nation's decaying fertility and demographics. Poor old Howard from the Halifax almost broke the mould by being an executive who just happened to be black - but Tessa Jowell and her like will soon sort that out. Know your place ethnic minorities - either sign up to your own private TV stations or lie back and think of England.
Ashok, London

Yes, looking at most adverts, one would be forgiven if they thought that this country does not have BMEs (probably the marketers' secret wish?) I often wonder where BMEs go shopping, clubbing and etc since they are not reflected in ads. Asda is a typical example - not one of the happy shoppers is a BMEs. Some how we are not part of the UK consumers. Not true - according to the London Economic Development Strategy, Britain's ethnic minority community contributes over 13 billion annually to the UK economy. Some of the efforts to involve us are sad - even pathetic. It is apparent that the advertisers do not have BMEs in their ranks (contributing ones - not window dressing. Also marketers seem to forget that we are not a lump of BMEs - we might represent all of Africa, Asia and the West Islands, but each and every country has their own way of doing things, of talking, and thinking. One black man or one Asian man does not represent ME or MINE - he or she is a token - to make us feel good or to make sure that the marketers' do not fall foul of equal rights or are being 'inclusive and multi-cultural'
Njeri, UK

I am a creative director in Leeds and we take creatives from the Leeds Bradford area. I've interviewed and employed a few Asian creatives for jobs over the years but the amount of black creatives is stunningly low. People from ethnic minorities do not occupy board level jobs in industry and mostly as far as I can see, don't work in advertising. This is the fundamental reason that advertising is unrepresentative. I don't know if there is institutionalised racism in the advertising industry or whether institutionalised racism in schools pushes black people into different areas of study. On the whole when white marketers are trying to be representative they often fall into the trap of stereotyping. The only way that industries like advertising will become more representative is by employing an ethnically and culturally diverse workforce that is, in itself, representative of the people of Britain. Andrew
Andrew Brown, UK

Isn't it racist to offer your goods and services to only certain ethnic groups? Wouldn't it then be racist to advertise only to certain groups?
PJ, W. Yorks, UK

It has always surprised me the attitude that the mainstream supermarket chains in the United Kingdom have shown towards products used by people of ethnic minority especially black people. In this age of complex marketing and statistical pull, a simple product such as shaving power for black men cannot be found in Sainsbury's, Tesco, Safeway or any other of the so called mainstream chains. Therefore I ask myself, do these number crunching / marketing institutions ignore, misunderstand or underestimate the power of the black economy in the United Kingdom? Or is the so called black power confused or confusing to understand due to the "back-home" nostalgia syndrome? I often hear my friend use the phrase "back-home" in almost every comparative discussion we have. Therefore, does this mean that majority of black people keep comparing "everything" to what is available in their home of origin, making our needs unpredictable and miss being part of the marketing bubble? Have we failed to attain decision making position in the supermarkets and cannot influence what is on the table? Or are we truly being ignored?
Augustine Amusu, uk

My wife is Asian. She suggested to me recently that her niece should try to earn a living as a model, but I can't see much point really. People who work in marketing seem to have almost no interest in Asian models.
Quentin Hawkins, UK

The reason they ignore black and Asians are they generally have less money and worse credit. Marketers are not stupid, they will only spent their advertising money on people who pay for things.
Jonathan Miller, UK

As an American marketer about to move to the UK, I was astonished to find out how little ethnic/diversity/multicultural marketing there is in England. I've worked in advertising to ethnic audiences for years stateside, where it is an accepted practice. However, even in the US, marketing to so-called "minorities" is a slippery slope, partly because mainstream agencies refuse to alter the "colour" of their staff and simply farm out their ethnic advertising to diversity specialists. I'm more in favour of bringing these specialists in-house where they can not only execute great advertising, but change internal cultures...that quite honestly, are probably open and ready for it.
Joel Johnson, USA

Marketers are definitely guilty of ignoring black and Asians in their marketing efforts. I can't speak about Asians but I can definitely say for blacks i.e. African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians and so on the stereotypes depicted in advertising do not reflect the young progressive, upwardly mobile communities we are becoming and striving to accomplish instead they are attempting to hold us back with their unrealistic and ill researched views. They need to get a clue.
Donisha, US

I thought we were all supposed to be equal. I see I was wrong - we still have to count how many black, white, brown and green faces appear. I buy a product because I think it is good, not because the person shown in the ad comes from a particular ethnic group. Likewise I don't avoid a product because of who is featured. I find the Howard adverts amusing but the fact Howard is black makes no difference - he could have been a white woman and the joke would still work.
John B, UK

I think that the supermarkets are one of the biggest losers of ignoring the potential spending power of ethnic minority people. Just look at how much they go about promoting xmas offers. But they seem to ignore the xmas/religious festivals of other ethnic groups. Muslims have two eids every year and during the festive days you see the Asian supermarkets booming because they have special 'Eid' offers. Up until this day I have not seen one of the big brand supermarkets promote any offers to the festivals of the ethnic groups. About time this country woke up and cleared its ignorances and started treating us ethnic minorities like we actually exist.
Yasir, UK

Very interesting. I bought Renault cars before Thierry Henry had Va Va Voom. However, when I watch the advert on the tele - I see a top French sportsman selling French cars (should Becks or Sol Campbell sell Rovers?) I also bank with the Halifax. The adverts are so naff - that Howard is no actor - I reckon he must be a good bank manager - so he'll look after my money. Are marketers' guilty of ignoring black and Asian people? I think they try not to be - but when they try and put something together - they will probably be accused of racism! Are racial stereotypes rife in advertising? Definitely not! (except for Australians re; the Fosters adverts - but white people are allowed to be stereotyped especially Aussies - and no ethnic Aussies feature - and I don't mean aborigines like in the car advert - I mean all the Italian/Chinese/Nigerian people who have emigrated to Australia!) Do you find efforts to tap into ethnic minority markets cynical and patronising? Definitely. Yorkshire Tea? Boddingtons Beer? Lilt? - all very ethnic in their own way!
John Broadley, England

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