From left to right: Danielle Austen, Cynthia Jensen, Issel Rodriguez, Rahim Hassanally and moderator Paul Sellers.

From left to right: Danielle Austen, Cynthia Jensen, Issel Rodriguez, Rahim Hassanally and moderator Paul Sellers.

LOS ANGELES — A panel of advertising experts at this week’s Western Automotive Conference, held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, said the challenges facing multicultural marketing and media are shifting radically from what they were several years ago. They all agreed that the growing Hispanic, Asian and African America communities continue to represent a key opportunity for dealers and automotive marketers.  

The discussion was moderated by Paul Sellers, vice president of automotive and senior industry advisor with Univision. “If you’re in charge of marketing and selling automobiles, this can be a daunting challenge or a huge opportunity,” he said. “The folks who are going to be successful are the ones who do it effectively and consistently over the next several years.”

Panelist Danielle Austen, managing partner and CEO of Team Ignition Pancultural Marketing, which represents Nissan and Infiniti brands, noted the conversation has shifted from why to how to reach these markets. “I think everyone understands the importance of the segments and their business,” she said. “The issue is more that there’s money involved. … If you had the money, you could talk really well to everyone, but who has that?”

Austen proposed that dealers and manufacturers “bring their communication goals up,” which could mean presenting some advertisements in English, some in Spanish or another prevalent language in the company’s designated market area. That’s a strategy Rahim Hassanally employs at his Momentum Autogroup.

The dealer’s Fairfield, Calif.-based dealer group, which consists of 17 franchises, lets customers know through radio and TV ads that personnel can communicate in several languages. “We deal with it on a variety of fronts,” he said. “One of the fronts is to make sure that we employ a diverse community. We’re in California, California’s very diverse.”

Also on the panel was Cynthia Jensen, senior vice president of media operations with Innocean Worldwide Americas (representing Hyundai and Kia), and Issel Rodriguez, connections director with MediaVest (representing Honda and Acura).

Rodriguez pointed out that there is more to multicultural marketing than just breaking down language barriers. She says a relevant message and a neutral approach are critical. “Whether that be in an English environment or whether that be any language, you have to understand they talk between both worlds and speak to them both ways,” she said.

Team Ignition’s Austen, however, said there’s more work to do: “We have probably more recently in the past five to seven years had much of our information [focus on] the U.S. Hispanic customer, but African American and Asian are probably the biggest gaps and opportunity.”

The panel, however, warned marketers that ethnicity may not matter as younger generations come of age. Austen suggested looking at other cultural differences such as music, food or type of neighborhood.

“[Younger generations] had the ability to be multiple things,” she said. “They weren’t identified with race alone, so they don’t identify themselves that way. But we’ve found race or ethnicity doesn’t go away. It’s part of who you are.”

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Stephanie Forshee

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