As automakers increase their marketing to black, Hispanic and Asian-American consumers, they also are making greater use of specialized ad agencies that have experience in reaching minority groups.
Racial and ethnic minorities make up a growing share of the nation's population and buying power. As a result, so-called one-stop shopping - expecting mainstream ad agencies to handle multicultural campaigns - no longer works, many auto and advertising executives agree.
Dave Rooney, the Chrysler group's media director, says the company's advertising spending in minority media has grown in the past two years. He would not disclose amounts.
GlobalHue, the nation's largest minority-owned advertising agency, handles the Chrysler group's multicultural marketing. The account is worth an estimated $140 million a year.
A seat at the table
To maintain consistency of brand and product messages in its advertising, Rooney says, Chrysler gives Global Hue, of Southfield, Mich., a seat at its strategic planning table along with its general ad agency, BBDO Detroit.
Allen Pugh, GlobalHue's executive vice president, says his agency seeks to "drive traffic" among minority buyers to the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands by maintaining cultural sensitivity in the ads it produces.
"We take the brand essence and make it relevant" to minority consumers, Pugh says. "You can't just take what's done for the general market. You need to understand cultural relevance and needs."
He cites the example of a TV commercial from GlobalHue for the new Hemi V-8 Dodge Charger car. The commercial shows a sharp-looking black man in business attire. It suggests the car transforms the driver into a superhero.
The commercial was used frequently during broadcasts of this year's NBA playoffs.
In 2003, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. hired interTrend Communications Inc., of Long Beach, Calif., to create Asian-American ad campaigns for Toyota.
"The automotive category is now the hottest category in the Asian arena," says interTrend Senior Vice President Robert Liu. Different groups of Asian Americans have different characteristics and needs, Liu says. Automakers and their marketers need to learn and address those needs, he adds.
"It's not just different languages," Liu says. "It's a unique lifestyle, culture and needs. It's building an emotional connection."
Asians are the second fastest-growing U.S. population group, trailing only Hispanics, the U.S. Census Bureau says. The Bureau estimates that last year there were about 41.3 million Hispanic Americans and 14.0 million Asian Americans in this country.
Research firm Competitrack, of Long Island City, N.Y., estimates that while automakers spend about $250 million a year to advertise in Hispanic media, they spend just $20 million to advertise in Asian-American media.
An ad in Spanish for the new Ford Mustang reflects the growth of multicultural marketing and spending in minority media.
Lost in translation
Lincoln Mercury is working to fine-tune its message to Hispanic consumers. The company employs Hispanic ad agency Zubi Advertising Services, of Coral Gables, Fla. The agency tailors general market appeals to Hispanic consumers.
For example, the "New Doors Opened" tag line Mercury introduced last year left Hispanic customers cold when it was translated into Spanish during focus-group presentations, says Jeanine White, Lincoln Mercury's manager of multicultural marketing communications.
"It didn't make sense," White says. "A literal translation would not have meant anything and just wasted dollars."
For Hispanic ads, Mercury adopted the tag line ''Much to Discover." That slogan "is about self-discovery as well as discovering the brand," she says.
Another Ford Motor Co. tag line for Ford Division, "Built for the Road Ahead," became "Built for What You Face Ahead" in Spanish, White says.
As competition grows for automaker ad dollars, so do turf battles between general-market ad agencies and multicultural agencies.
"When you're dueling overtly or covertly over budgets, there will always be tension," says Saul Gitlin, executive vice president of strategic marketing with Kang & Lee Advertising in New York. Kang & Lee is the nation's largest Asian-American advertising agency.
Gitlin says that the number of black, Hispanic and Asian Americans - about 87 million people - is roughly equal to the number of baby boomers, a coveted market for automakers.
"The sheer size of the multicultural opportunity dictates interest," Gitlin says. Automakers can enhance that opportunity, he says, by employing multicultural agencies.
Still, Gitlin says, Kang & Lee has not had an automaker client since it lost an account with Kia Motors America Inc. in the late 1990s.