Should There Be Multicultural Marketing Response in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?

Discussion
Sep 15, 2005
George Anderson

Editorial by Gwendolyn Kelly, Senior Advertising Specialist, American Family Insurance (www.amfam.com)


This is a question I have come to ask of myself as a practitioner of multicultural marketing. I’m not sure of the answer, given the stories that are coming to our attention each and every day in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.


Over these past two weeks, I have personally struggled to come to grips with the enormity of the human, social and cultural devastation of this natural disaster. Yes, I have to confront the fact that the human suffering we have witnessed has largely, but not exclusively, been that of poor, under-educated and marginalized black folks and others who had been abandoned by society long before Hurricane Katrina struck.


In the coming weeks, as the debate is surely to heighten, there will be provocative debate on the topics of tough policy decisions, this nation’s troubled racial history and the racial and economic barriers that continue to separate Americans more than 40 years later after landmark civil rights legislation.


In the multicultural marketing space, we tirelessly demonstrate via strong and reliable metrics the need for Corporate America to recognize the economic clout that ethnic populations deliver to the bottom line. And with our diversity practitioner cousins, we show diversity management initiatives along with multicultural marketing initiatives are not “optional” best practices at the companies for whom we work. As reported this week by Diversity Inc., the result of these efforts is illustrated in the response from Corporate America to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts has been unprecedented, not only in size but also in swiftness in delivery.


But has this event resulted in a paradigm shift of how we move forward in multicultural marketing and diversity? Without a doubt, the multicultural programs and initiatives, which have been developed in recent years, certainly have had a tremendous economic impact throughout the New South. After all, over half of the African American population of this country lives in the South. What marketer among us hasn’t written a marketing plan, in this case targeting African Americans, in which it was absolutely critical to include markets like New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis and Louisville just to name a few?


So, let others debate the political, social, and cultural implications of Katrina. Let others do the politicizing… that is not a required function of the job we do. But let’s be honest; multicultural marketing will be a beneficiary, whether good or bad, of the debate and political reactions that are sure to come.


Those of us who are operating in this multicultural marketing space should not shy from reacting to the images seen and the statistics revealed from the Gulf Coast region. We should be challenged. This is a time of examination and some deep soul-searching. Let us consider how we acknowledge and respond to this tragedy. Yes, on the corporate front, many Fortune 500 companies have come through with amazing displays of resources in true generosity of time, talent and treasure. That has been the immediate reaction and response. We need to acknowledge the long haul nature of this event; this will not go away overnight. We need and should dig deeper.


Let us together try to answer the question posed in the headline. And here’s one suggestion to consider: let the response be by what we do best: invigorating and infusing our programs and initiatives with more strength and a renewed determination to build, transform and empower every ethnic market we claim we value and respect.


Moderator’s Comment: How would you respond to Gwendolyn Kelly’s question: “Should there be multicultural marketing
response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?” Do you think the disaster and the tremendous charitable response will influence future multicultural marketing strategies?


George Anderson – Moderator


 

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14 Comments on "Should There Be Multicultural Marketing Response in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?"


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Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 5 months ago
This comment sent in by Dr. Nat Irvin II, founder and president of Future Focus 2020 and Assistant Dean, MBA Student Development, Executive Professor Future Studies at the Wake Forest University Babcock Graduate School of Management. “This is a critical time for the reimage building of America itself and especially with people of color – blacks being in the center of the recovery. This event is catclysmic and will have implications that will take a long time to unfold. There is so much here. For example, the Latino poor in this country can identify with what happened to the blacks in new orleans. The same for the Vietnamese etc. “The key thing, Gwen, is understanding what is at stake here. Belief, a sense of assurance, a sense that somebody will be there should the unthinkable happen. For black people, that curtain, in some sense, has been ripped. For the emerging people of color – especially younger people, they will also have doubts. “This is no time to be splintered. Strong images of the next America… Read more »
David Morse
Guest
David Morse
15 years 5 months ago
Katrina has ripped open the racial and socioeconomic divide that exists in the United States of America. That there is such a divide is a fact that we White people like to deny, or at least deny its racial component. It’s a fact that Blacks are aware of everyday. Here’s a fact I got out of this week’s Time magazine. They did a poll and asked the question, “Do you think the race or the low income level of many of the victims slowed government relief efforts?” 73% of Blacks said yes. Only 37% of the total sample agreed. Regardless of how you might answer the question, it’s hard to deny that Blacks and Whites see the world very differently. A 2000 New York Times poll found that Blacks were four times more likely than Whites to say that Blacks are treated less fairly in this country. And that’s just one example. Remember the OJ Simpson trial? Gallup polls in 1995 showed that three-quarters of Whites thought OJ was guilty and three-quarters of Blacks thought… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 5 months ago
There is no personal offense intended here but it always strikes me in our discussions of multiculturalism that it is, by definition, both racist and patronising. I tend to take exception to any kind of demographic breakdown, resisting as I do being squeezed into an advertising person’s “metrics” and do not see this as being better or different in any way. I do understand that market forces (and I cringe as I type that term) and capitalism dictate that size matters, whereas individuals do not, but targeting specific groups of people inevitably leads to some of them getting a bit upset. This includes the discussion we had a few days ago about plus sized people. The mere thought of trying to overcome the unpleasant facts bared by Katrina – explicit and implicit – by addressing them through multicultural marketing because of the “economic clout that ethnic populations deliver to the bottom line” seems inappropriate and tasteless to say the least. Marketers obviously have a job to do and manufacturers and retailers have products to sell.… Read more »
Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Bernice…one way to characterize marketers is as vultures, swooping down to opportunistically grab unwilling consumers in their bloody clutches. Another is as people working to connect consumers with important…in many cases, direly needed…products and services.

Imagine yourself being a homeowner in the hurricane zone trying to figure out how to rebuild. The more attuned the marketer is to your special circumstances, the more likely you’ll consider what they are offering seriously. A trusting relationship is going to be very important after what you’ve been through. Multicultural marketers (if I may speak for them) believe your special circumstances include your ethnicity, family heritage, social class, etc. Understanding your circumstances better is a path to better serving you. (And, of course, you have your carpetbaggers, as well. Such is life in the world of capitalism.)

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

To the businesspeople, Katrina’s lessons will be maximized if the relief efforts are sustained once the headlines fade, since the underlying issues won’t be solved in 90 or 180 days. Impact will be magnified if the retailers and consumer product manufacturers involved meet together, on a repeated, focused basis, to coordinate their efforts. It is unlikely that the government(s), local, state or national, will plan or perform urgently at a high level of competence. The same government management techniques that failed to help people in Iraq are now used in the Gulf. The best performers so far have been businesses that reacted IMMEDIATELY with resources from their specialties. The businesses that help on a sustained, planned basis will get good results and will reap tremendous rewards for years to come. The rewards will come from the majority part of our society, not just the minorities who are helped directly.

Eva A. May
Guest
Eva A. May
15 years 5 months ago

I hope that everyone who is reaching out to help people affected by the Katrina tragedy is moved to do so in order to HELP PEOPLE, and is not thinking about the positive spin that their companies or they will receive for their gestures. I also hope that everyone who is reaching out to help these people is trying to help ALL people affected, regardless of the color of their skin or the language they choose to speak. Hopefully, the people whose homes and lives are devastated by this tragedy will become active purchasers of goods and services again one day soon; but for now, let’s just join together and help, regardless of the “pay-off” or the expected ROI.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 5 months ago
Suffering is suffering, regardless of ethnic or demographic group. Some mostly white areas of Mississippi and Louisiana were devastated as well. But, the fact is that poor people, due to obvious lack of resources, live in areas most prone to natural disasters, and have the least ability to get away from these disasters and recover from them. So, what do we learn from the obvious? Maybe, just maybe, we learn that as marketers we shouldn’t be “targeting” ethnic groups. It’s just a word, but does it reveal something about our intentions? What if we focused on “working with” various groups to develop products and services that would improve their lot? Perhaps it’s unrealistic, but down deep wouldn’t we all rather be marketing a new service that helps, say, poor people communicate more cheaply, than a service, say, that provides short-term loans that enable people to get from one paycheck to another but puts them deeper in debt each time they use the service? It’s a matter of degree but, as marketers, we have the opportunity… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 5 months ago
I’m with Warren. The vast majority of the aid will come from white America. I would hope that “the world” recognizes this along with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan. We all know they won’t because the rest of the world pretty much wants the USA out of the way and in ruins. Another point is that this aid is totally voluntary and having “multicultural leaders” criticize what is going on now is sort of “biting the hand that feeds you”! I can say this because I am directly involved in the relief efforts. I am boots on the ground and see people working 18 hours a day helping their fellow man in his time of need. This help is not multicultural, it is 95% white (if you want to look) and those of us here aren’t helping black people – we are helping victims. I wish some of the news people, some of the opinion columnists and some of the “multicultural leaders” would put their backs and organizations to work. We don’t need… Read more »
Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

I think some of us are missing the point of Ms. Kelly’s editorial. Think in terms of the global media coverage that portrayed poor people of color as being the forgotten minority (in fact the majority in many of the affected areas) in America. How has the coverage swung public perception of multiculturalism in America? Going forward, how should multicultural marketers adjust their strategies when creating messages that “work with” (in deference to Al) these groups?

For me, the experience of seeing the outrageous treatment of these folks pointed out how Blacks (especially) are portrayed in marketing imagery as being securely middle-class, and how the poor population is “swept under the rug” until something like this happens. Suddenly, with this disaster, we see the shameful underbelly of American racial prejudice again. This has GOT to have an impact on how marketers think when they’re designing new campaigns in the post-Katrina world.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 5 months ago

Perhaps I’m being naive, and if so I’d probably like to remain that way, but it had never even occurred to me that racial considerations might be behind the giving. We all pulled together for 9/11, which involved lots of rich white people getting killed, and we are all pulling together here. At the risk of it sounding corny, I’m proud of the industry and how it has responded, and of my own neighbors as well. Our fire department sent down a team, and one member reported back about finding a family of 11 Vietnamese inside a tiny apartment with no food or water, no money, no resources, and no ability to speak English. How do you plan for circumstances like this? All this does bring to light the plight of the growing underclass, which has been largely ignored in recent years. If anybody can find a way to make a buck by truly helping people, I’m with them.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 5 months ago
It is fashionable to recommend “multicultural marketing” these days, and in the forefront are those who make a living from it. Also in the forefront are those who make a living or gain power from tragedies by playing the multicultural (race) card, and most of us know who they are (Jackson, Kennedy, Pelosi, Sharpton, et al). Contrary to Gwendolyn Kelly’s assertion, society has NOT abandoned the “poor, under-educated and marginalized black folks” of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Instead, these individuals are already largely supported by society – our tax dollars – and can hardly be labeled as “abandoned.” Some of the first questions to come from the area were, “how will I get my welfare check?” Heck, they receive significantly more government (societal) correspondence than I do. Perhaps it is I who should whine about being abandoned. Honorable people want to be treated as others around them – no better and no worse. Unfortunately, our welfare state has encouraged generations of citizens to adopt an entitlement mentality that expects their entire subsistence from the… Read more »
George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
15 years 5 months ago

African-American friends pointed out how patrons (all Caucasian) of a hotel in New Orleans were taking gas from a school bus to power a generator in the establishment. The news coverage voice-over said they were siphoning the gas, not stealing it. The bus was clearly not hotel property.

Another shot showed a black man with groceries coming out of store. He was described as looting. If you want to know why some African-Americans believe that prejudice still plays a role in all of society, including government decision-making, it’s not too hard to figure out.

As for the Messrs. Sharpton, Jackson, etc. – we agree that their words and actions sometimes do more harm than good (Tawana Brawley comes immediately to mind) but African-American politicians and white liberals are not the only ones who play the race card, they’re just more upfront about it.

Al Anderson
Guest
Al Anderson
15 years 5 months ago

Ms. Kelly’s comments reflect the informed views of an acknowledged corporate executive who has successfully implemented multicultural marketing programming for her company. She also has keen understanding of both the cognitive and subliminal messaging that takes place in American society.

Her premise is tying together the disaster of Katrina and the imagery we have all seen in the media e.g. “looting” vs. “finding food.”

This points to the biggest “dirty little secret” in American life today. This secret is that racism is unfortunately alive and well in America!

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 5 months ago
I’m not really sure if there should be a multicultural marketing response. My gut feel is there probably won’t be much of one. Since it appears that those receiving the most media coverage from being affected are African American, I think most businesses will treat this like they do everything else. When it comes to African Americans, rather than risk offending and sending the wrong message, they simply send no message. After 9/11, I remember seeing the American flag being hung everywhere. On the interstate overpass, from car antennas, bumper stickers, and even on my Discover Card. Heroes began to emerge immediately. The marketing response was patriotism. What is Katrina’s marketing message? This hurricane made everyone look like fools – the government for not responding as quickly as desired, people with means who stayed behind, and looters ransacking Wal-Mart. Too many people ended up looking like shameful idiots, even if it was undeserved. It’s going to be difficult to have a marketing response to that. I think most marketers would prefer to pretend like this… Read more »
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