Last week some fascinating new research was published by WARC.com regarding the media consumption habits of African Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics in the United States. The findings have serious implications for media planners as well as marketers in general, since they point to strong differences in behaviour amongst these ethnic groups.
For example Asians and Pacific Islanders have the highest fixed line internet consumption – 80h/month versus the national average of 55h/month. This group is also least interested in TV – they only watch about 3h15min of it a day. Compare that to African Americans, whose daily average of TV consumption is nearly 7h. Hispanics, for their part, are way ahead of the game when it comes to phones – with 45% smartphone penetration and an average of 943 texts per month they really seem to have gotten on board with the mobile revolution.
Any research that points to consistent correlation between multiple variables is useful. Yet as an anthropologist I feel uneasy about an ethnicity-based segmentation in the 21st century – for reasons that have nothing to do with political correctness.
‘Ethnicity’ is a funny term and should not be used unquestionably. Like ‘race’ before it, it’s the kind of word that derives its power from the assumption that it is something physically engrained in us, passed down from our predecessors. But ethnicity is not inherent. Rather, it is part of our (also frustratingly fuzzy) ‘identity’ which is fluid, situational and constructed in our daily lives – in the way we dress, the food we eat, the language we speak and so on. It is through such practices that we come to identify ourselves as belonging to one group or another. What we do is not just a result of ‘what’ we are (and by ‘what’ I mean the label). Americans of Hispanic origin do not just use smartphones because they are Hispanic. Rather, it’s a two-way process – smartphones become one of the ways in which they reinforce their Hispanic identity.
If we start talking about how media and technology consumption affects identity we get into a whole new ball-game. There is so much you need to take into account – Facebook, online forums, Apple versus LG – the list could go on forever. What’s more – the phenomenal speed with which technology and media trends emerge and become mainstream means that the next big thing is just around the corner. For a young American of Chinese origin his iPhone and Twitter profile might well form a much greater part of his identity than his grandparents’ immigration story.
A good segmentation is typically predictive of consumer behaviour. If the present study helps media planners devise more effective campaigns, it will have fulfilled its role. My note of caution goes out more against the implicit assumption inherent in this research – that ethnicity is a concrete stable variable against which other variables can be plotted. Instead, both ‘identity’ and ‘ethnicity’ have never been as fluid and fast-changing as they are today, and media and technology consumption are central to our ever-changing concept of ‘self.’
Just as segmentations used to be based on demographic data such as age groups before we realised that needs and attitudes are often more indicative of consumer behaviour, so too ethnicity-based segmentations might fall behind with the times unless we really understand the effect that ‘ethnicity’ has on consumer ‘identity,’ and what effect that, in turn, has on behaviour.