NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Warning: When it comes to making ads relevant for multicultural audiences, doing it wrong is worse than not doing it all.
A new study from OMD Worldwide found that ethnic groups are turned off by ads that rely on stereotypes and caricatures rather than meaningful cultural cues.
"The respondents were saying, 'We want to see ourselves represented in ads, but not in a stereotypical matter,'" said Pamela Marsh, group director-primary research and insights at the Omnicom media agency.
The OMD study, a telephone survey of 1,453 respondents 18 and older, sought to understand how ethnicity affects consumer behavior and advertising receptivity. Four different groups were represented: blacks, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and the general market (which was about 76% Caucasian in the study).
The ethnic groups agreed that messages should be culturally relevant, but they responded more positively to ads with multicultural cues, such as ethnic characters, phrases, expressions and values, than ads that were simply translations of general-market ads.
"Ad relevancy is more about communicating in kind than speaking in a language," Ms. Marsh said.
Cultural relevance is also important for media placement, the study said, noting that ad models created on the basis of general population statistics, such as channel planning, are likely to fall short if they do not take relevant ethnic differences into account.
How to reach them
Though all segments in the survey gravitated toward the same top four media -- TV, radio, internet and mobile -- different ethnic groups spent different amounts of time with each of them. Blacks, for instance, spent the most time with TV; Hispanics spent more time with radio; and Asians used the internet at significantly higher rates.
The study also found that black consumers place a higher premium on word-of-mouth information before making buying decisions -- particularly when seeking feedback about a product. Asian-Americans also rely heavily on word-of-mouth because they are less receptive to ads than other segments of the population, according to the study.
Marketers have a significant opportunity to influence the purchases of blacks and Hispanics, the study said, because they are more open to advertising than other groups but feel as though most marketing messages are not relevant to them.