- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO

A singer croons in Farsi while musicians strum their instruments before an audience of families gathered in a park for an Iranian holiday feast.

A banner looms over the crowd wishing them all a happy Norooz — the Persian New Year — from Lufthansa, the German airline.

Such scenes are becoming part of the marketing landscape as global companies look beyond Cinco de Mayo and the Chinese New Year in efforts to reach immigrant consumers who might miss a more mainstream message.

Just as Norooz offers firms a window into an untapped community, so too does the Muslim holy month of Ramadan or Malanka, when Ukrainians celebrate the coming of spring.

“You can reach any community, any population, any small target group with the right expertise, the right media resources,” said Givi Topchishvili, chief executive of New York-based Global Advertising Strategies, which helps develop niche ethnic markets for Lufthansa and other corporate clients.

By working with advertising consultants who understand a group’s unique values and spending habits, he said, firms aim to deliver a relevant message at the right time, in the right place, in the right language.

“You can be effective not only with larger communities, like the Latino community,” he said. “You can reach the Polish community in Chicago or the Greeks in New York.”

Ten years ago, advertisers did target broad groups such as Hispanics or Asians, said Greg Anthony, senior vice president of Alloy Access, the multicultural division of the marketing firm Alloy Inc. But today’s clients want to go deeper, beyond such broad descriptions, and reach the more than 35 million foreign-born residents in the U.S. who hail from more than 400 countries, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Any time you can get more specific and more targeted, the better your campaign will be,” he said. “We’d love for it to stay easy, but it won’t.”

MoneyGram International Inc., a company that allows customers to wire money around the world, used International Women’s Day on March 8 to reach out to Russians, Armenians and other immigrants from countries that celebrate the blend of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Ethnic radio programs and newspapers from New York to San Francisco carried ads wishing listeners a happy Women’s Day. On March 8, MoneyGram representatives fanned into neighborhoods handing out carnations, which symbolizes admiration and devotion in those cultures, and discussing the company’s products in relevant languages.

The message of the campaign: The company cares about that community’s culture.

“Even though you’re not in your country of origin, you can celebrate, and we can help you send money to your loved women,” said Anna Abelson, the company’s global advertising account manager. MoneyGram is presented as “a means of sending that gift.”

Lufthansa tried ethnicity-specific advertising in the United States to promote its online booking system, weflyhome.com, which was created with immigrants in mind.

Many immigrants are frequent fliers who return to their home countries regularly, sometimes ignoring factors that deter other travelers, such as wars and the economy. But they generally don’t take their business to the Internet, preferring local travel agents who speak their language. The airline’s marketing campaign aimed to present the online booking tool as an alternative to these neighborhood storefronts, said Lufthansa spokeswoman Jennifer Urbaniak.

The strategy included sponsoring events around Norooz, which falls in late March. Last year, in California, Lufthansa raffled tickets to Iran and brought singers and musicians to parks, where Iranians traditionally gather to celebrate the new year with food and music.

“It’s the airline coming to their back yard, their festival, being part of their community,” Miss Urbaniak said.

This is where specialists with detailed knowledge of an ethnic group’s traditions and tastes come in, said Tru Pettigrew, president of Alloy Access.

“It’s really about understanding the culture and the lifestyle, and seeing the intersection point with the brand,” said Mr. Pettigrew.

Depending on the ethnic group being targeted, a campaign might send Alloy Access teams to boxing gyms or soccer fields, nightclubs or hair salons.

“It’s about letting brands immerse themselves in the community in a natural way,” he said.

Three months after the debut of its new Web site, Lufthansa had 190,000 visitors to weflyhome.com, and revenue generated through the site was 91 percent more than the goal, according to Lufthansa.

“We absolutely see a spike in bookings and travel following these events,” said Miss Urbaniak. “When a few people find out, it spreads like wildfire.”

The federal government also has an interest in reaching certain ethnic groups, especially since the September 11 attacks increased the need for military and intelligence recruits who speak Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages, said Mostapha Saout, president of Allied Media Corp., an Alexandria, Va., firm whose clients include the U.S. Army, Air Force and FBI.

“They’re aware there are huge swaths of the market they’re not communicating with, and they’re not able to attract talent from these markets,” he said.

Allied Media staged campaigns through Arab-language broadcast outlets for the Army linguist program, which seeks to recruit and train translators. They focused on Ramadan, a month when Muslims pray, fast and celebrate with family, and the World Cup soccer tournament, which is wildly popular in the Middle East.

The response — particularly to ads aired during soccer broadcasts — exceeded expectations, bringing in more recruits than anticipated, said Jalal Sayed, Allied Media’s marketing strategist.

Still, immigrant communities remain a largely untapped market for many mainstream companies, and a source of significant potential revenue, said Global Advertising Strategies board member Sandy Kornberg.

“Clients are often not aware of pockets of multicultural ethnic groups living in the United States that are reachable,” said Mr. Kornberg. “Once they find out this capability exists, it’s a real awakening for them.”

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