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MBPT Spotlight: Marketers May Be Missing Big Opportunities With African-American Viewers

The growing interest of many marketers to target the Hispanic consumer by allocating more money to the Spanish-language networks is having a negative impact on the dollars and brand attention being spent trying to reach African-American consumers, according to Deidre Smalls-Landau, who heads Identity, the multicultural unit of IPG.

“It’s becoming a dire situation,” she says. “Many marketers are taking some money previously allocated to African-American networks and moving it to the Hispanic networks. They think that if they advertise on the general audience broadcast networks they will reach African-Americans, but that’s not necessarily so. They need to dig deeper and target better.”

Some marketers have “multicultural budgets” and Smalls-Landau says within those budgets they are choosing one group over the other.

Gonzalo del Fa, president of GroupM Multicultural, agrees with Smalls-Landau that most marketers are not specifically targeting African-American audiences, but simply trying to reach them with a mass general market TV buy.

He says that strategy can be costly because, much like Hispanics, “African-Americans have their own habits, motivations, nuances and many times they differ from the general audience.”

Nielsen data supports Smalls-Landau’s belief that programming on the general audience broadcast networks is not being watched by African-Americans in huge numbers.

Two of the most-watched general audience broadcast network primetime series by African-Americans are ABC’s Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, both created by Shonda Rhimes. Scandal, which stars African-American lead actress Kerry Washington, was the highest rated broadcast network drama among viewers 18-49 this season with a 2.8, while Grey’s, with a multicultural cast, averaged a 2.7 in the demo.

Recent data by Nielsen showed in one week Scandal drew 3.8 million African-American viewers, but it is by far the most-watched general broadcast network series by African-Americans. The next closest in African-American viewers was ABC’s Dancing With the Stars with 1.7 million, followed by Grey’s with 1.5 million. Other broadcast network shows with over 1 million African-American viewers include CBS drama NCIS: Los Angeles, CBS drama Person of Interest, NBC drama The Blacklist, ABC drama Resurrection, CBS drama CSI and NBC’s singing competition series The Voice.

They are some of the most-watched series on broadcast by all audiences but as a percentage of total audience, African-American viewers are a small part. More than 40% of Scandal’s audience is African-American, and about 18% of the Grey’s viewership is African-American. However, DWTS’ African-American viewership is only 12% of the total audience, The Voice is about 10%, NCIS: LA is about 8% and the others in the top 10 are about the same percentages. So a “mass buy” is really reaching a small percentage of African-American viewers.

“It’s unfortunate but there is just not enough good, original content on the general audience networks for African-Americans,” Smalls-Landau says. “It doesn’t have to be an all-black cast but there needs to be more diversity and more money needs to be spent by the networks developing series that will interest African-American audiences.”

Playing ‘The Game’ Well

That some marketers are in an “either/or” mode when it comes to multicultural spending ironically comes at a time when the leading African-American networks are pumping more money into producing original programming, and where a couple of BET network series have become major cable hits.

The Game, the BET dramedy that follows the lives of professional football players on the fictional San Diego Sabers, is averaging 2.7 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating in its seventh season. It is one of the most-watched cable series in both viewers and in the 18-49 demo on Tuesday nights and offers marketers an audience of primarily African-American consumers.

BET drama series Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union as a single TV news anchor juggling her professional and personal life, averaged 2.8 million viewers and a 1.3 18-49 demo rating this season.

Both The Game and Being Mary Jane were created by Mara Brock Akil, who, like Rhimes, is African-American.

Louis Carr, president of broadcast and advertising media sales at BET, said recently in announcing the renewal of The Game and Being Mary Jane, as well as the network’s new slate of programming for next season, “To win with a Total Market approach, a brand must be in an environment that is relevant to audiences that drive attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles to influence what’s hot, what’s next and what matters. BET is where your total market begins.”

Rashon Lindsay, senior VP of ad sales and marketing at TV One, says, “There is a difference between marketers reaching viewers and with marketers touching viewers. On the broadcast networks, you can reach African-American viewers but for the most part, not touch them and develop that chemistry with them. There are cultural nuances in African-American network programming that the general market series just don’t have.”

Lindsay says the network’s research finds 91% of African-American viewers prefer to consume African-American media. “The level of engagement with African-American viewers on TV One and BET is much higher than it is on general market networks.”

While BET now has a major “name” in Gabrielle Union, most of the African-American network series casts are not as well known to general audiences. But TV One’s Lindsay says what matters most is that the casts have a following among African-Americans. “Our network stars may not be general market household names but they are stars on our network with our viewers.”

As for the desirability of reaching targeted African-American audiences, Lindsay says marketers need to keep in mind data such as “a higher percentage of African-Americans are likely to own luxury cars than general market consumers at all income levels.”

While the spotlight has been focused on reaching Hispanic consumers who have $1 trillion-plus in spending power, some agency execs see that what’s being missed is that African-Americans also have $1 trillion-plus in spending power.

Seems like savvy marketers should keep that in mind during this year’s fast-approaching upfront marketplace.