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Avoid These Top 5 Multicultural Marketing Mistakes

by Felicia Fuller

The emergence of personalized medicine adds new complexity to patient recruitment, as clinical trial sponsors require participants to meet more granular criteria, including ethnicity. The challenge for drug development companies is to craft recruitment campaigns that educate, resonate and inspire communities of color to become research volunteers.

But one misstep in communication can derail the best-laid plans. Beyond inaccurate language translation, below are a few things you want to avoid.

1.  Using the Plug-and-Play Approach: Simply inserting ethnic faces on mainstream materials is insufficient. For clinical trial messaging to resonate with specific racial groups, advertisers must gain insight into everything from their perception of the medical establishment to how they receive and process information.

2. Making Assumptions About Media Use: Find out what your audience is reading, watching, listening to, and engaging with wirelessly. You might be surprised. Recent Pew research reveals that African Americans use Twitter more than their cultural counterparts. Specifically, 28 percent of African-American web surfers use Twitter versus 12 percent of non-Hispanic white web users and 14 percent of Hispanic web users.

3. Promoting Stereotypes: Nothing offends an ethnic group more than to be viewed as one-dimensional. To presume, for example, that gratuitous slang and saggy pants are essential elements of a campaign targeted to urban Hispanic males may be way off base. Seek to understand the breadth and depth of your audience and speak to them, not their kind.

4. Playing the Skin Game: Colorism – discrimination within the same race based on skin tone alone – is alive and well worldwide. Across Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, and even the United States, there are caste systems based on color with light-skinned, brown-skinned and black-skinned people ranked in descending social order. This form of prejudice is often perpetuated in media images. To be a savvy advertiser, don’t follow suit. Keep it real with depictions of individuals representing the full color spectrum.

5. Thinking You’re Not One of Them: You don’t have to be a member of a particular ethnic group to identify with the group. And don’t be so quick to relegate multicultural marketing to individuals you assume have an inside track due to their ethnic background. In a global industry like ours, cultural competence should be a corporate-level commitment, not a one-off assignment.

Perhaps Dr. Mona Fouad, MD, MPH, director of the University of Alabama’s Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center, said it best when I interviewed her years ago: “We must seek to understand the community, lifestyle, behaviors and cultural values of [multicultural] patients, including those in urban, suburban and rural environments. Researchers can’t take anything for granted.”

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