Behavioral Marketing's Role in Multicultural America

  |  February 11, 2009   |  Comments

A major shift in racial and ethnic demographics provides an opportunity for behavioral marketing to play an increasingly important role in advertising.

"The Atlantic" published an interesting article, "The End of White America?" that stated: "The end of white America is a cultural and demographic inevitability...[The U.S. is] approaching a profound demographic tipping point."

The August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau projects that groups currently categorized as racial minorities -- blacks, Hispanics, East Asians, and South Asians -- will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. For Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place even earlier, by 2023.

Fascinating, no? These demographic statistics imply that the composition of the general market, as we currently understand it, is rapidly changing. As of right now, the general market and corresponding mainstream culture is still predominantly a white culture. As the U.S. Census Bureau report suggests, that won't be the case for long. Our nation's mainstream culture is in process of being remade in the image of America's multiethnic, multicolored composition (and if the recent election of President Barack Obama isn't a telling sign, I don't know what is). As a result of demographic shifts, we can expect to see changes in social attitudes and behaviors on- and offline that will provide opportunities for behavioral marketing to gain prominence.

Evidence of the Shift

In the article, Hua Hsu writes that on the most physical/visible level, there's an observable movement "within advertising, marketing, and communications firms to reimagine the profile of the typical American consumer." An active effort is being made right now to reduce the gap between the general market and the smaller ethnic markets as advertisers revise assumptions and strategies in anticipation of demographic shifts.

The article points to Apple's iPod campaigns as a perfect example of a strategy shift. Instead of using real human faces that can easily be labeled with racial or ethnic characteristics, Apple used dancing silhouettes, which showcased individuality and diversity without representing any particular demographic segment.

A Greater Need for Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting can help bridge the gap between the general and more niche, ethnic markets since its emphasis is on tracking and identifying behavioral patterns of Web surfers regardless of racial or ethic backgrounds. This isn't to say that a consumer's racial or ethnic background should not be taken into consideration when targeting online; it absolutely should. However, race or ethnicity is rarely a standalone segmenting factor. Use of behavioral methodologies, then, makes it a more culturally adaptive tactic in the digital space. Think about fan groups and causes on social platforms such as Facebook and MySpace. People are uniting online in unprecedented ways and belonging to the same segment that marketers wouldn't have predicted in an offline situation. For members of groups and causes, it no longer matters who you are ethnically or age-wise. As long as you share the same interests and passions as other people in the group, you can collectively be viewed as one segment. As social structures change, race becomes just one of a seemingly infinite number of possible self-identifications. As one marketer insightfully told "The Atlantic," "You'll have crazy in-depth studies of the white consumer or the Latino consumer. But how do skaters feel? How do hip-hoppers feel?"

Behavioral marketing will help bridge the markets since there's more focus placed on targeting lifestyles and interests over basic racial and geographic demographics. This addresses the fact that the modern consumers have much more flexible identities that may or may not overlap with their racial identities.

Additional Opportunities for Behavioral

A shift in racial and ethnic demographics also means additional opportunities for behavioral marketing to play an increasingly important role in advertising. As cultures blend, new subcultures will be created. And that means the emergence of new verticals and more opportunities for niche marketing. Thus, the use of behavioral goes beyond helping drive more traffic to a particular site or providing Web surfers with the right message at the right time. There is great opportunity to employ behavioral targeting tactics to help brands identify and reach out to new niche markets based on consumer interests and their online behavioral patterns. Marketers who are able to identify new trends and cultures will have an advantage in recruiting new consumer segments. In today's competitive advertising space, the sooner you can find and cater to niche segments' needs, the more successful you will become. Early bird gets the worm, remember?


The U.S. consumer demographics landscape is changing. Behaviors and social attitudes are shifting along with it, and marketers must recognize such shifts to best grasp who their audience is and how to best communicate with them. As ClickZ Experts columnist Jason Burby points out, even the smallest changes in segmentation tactic and messaging can improve site conversions. As the racial demographics of consumers become more mixed and multicultural, there will be a greater need for behavioral marketing. Using behavioral targeting as opportunities to identify new niche markets shouldn't be overlooked.

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Vicky Chen

Vicky Chen is a strategist at Sid Lee. Based in Amsterdam, she works with global clients such as Heineken, Red Bull, Swarovski, and Adidas to create and communicate desired brand experiences.

Vicky was previously a strategist at Naked New York, and started her career as a psychologist, focusing on socio-cultural dynamics and its influence on people's realities and behaviors.

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