Multicultural Marketing


My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy…you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.” –

Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of Vogue U.K.

It’s one thing to know in your heart that racist comments like this are not true but another type of satisfaction arises when you scientifically prove it to be incorrect. In my new paper published in The International Journal of Market Research, I’ve done just that.

Before I had the language to articulate it, I knew that my relationship with fashion would always be somewhat one-sided. As easy as it is to get lost in the flourish of patterns, shapes and fabrics, as a young Black woman, you can’t help but notice something’s missing and that something is you, or rather, a reflection of you. At the moment, the number of active models of colour are on the rise. It’s true, fashion shows and magazine covers are becoming increasingly diverse. However, many of us still remember the days when if someone asked you to name 5 black fashion models you’d say Naomi, Tyra, Alek, Beverly and then your voice would trail off into a mumble.

I’m happy to say that this list is growing everyday but to say that fashion has fixed its diversity problem would be a step too far. Last year, the Guardian published data after analysing 214 covers from the 19 best selling glossies in the UK with less than positive results. In two months in 2017, the front covers of every publication featured images of white people, exclusively. The covers of four magazines – Marie Claire, HomeStyle, Your Home and Prima – did not feature a single person of colour throughout 2017. When analysing children’s magazines, the data revealed an even more dire lack of diversity where 95% of the cover models were white.

Increased inclusivity in fashion and movements like #unfairandlovely and #blackmodelsmatter will continue to be celebrated but for people of colour, our brains are simply hardwired to be hyper-aware that the industry is still not truly representative. 

‘Distinctiveness Theory’ refers to “the idea that people define themselves on the basis of traits that are numerically rare in their local environments.” Research suggests that race and ethnicity are two of the most meaningful self-defining traits associated with distinctiveness and are often the first things that pop into your head when you’re asked to describe yourself. So in general, minorities are more “saliently aware of their race” “and consider their race a prominent factor in their interpersonal communications”. As our race and ethnicity are prominent self-defining features, we’re more acutely aware when an industry, that has an important by-product in its ability to legitimize and publicize the existence of often-ignored ethnic groups, doesn’t.

The bi-product of underrepresentation is the fostering of the belief; especially among younger people of colour, that they’re undesirable. Hashtags and protests are powerful tools of change but money will always be the most persuasive motivator of change. It was this realisation that made me embark on my latest research paper investigating racial representation in fashion and beauty media. Ethnic minorities have a $3.9 Trillion Buying Power and yet very few brands consider us when creating advertising and marketing campaigns.

Fashion is Psychology
Example of stimuli used in the experiment

In my new paper ‘Testing the effect of consumer-model racial congruency on consumer behavior’ published in The International Journal of Market Research I tested the consumer behaviour of Black and White consumers when presented with adverts featuring Black and White models. The results proved that both black and white consumers will spend significantly more money on product when its advertised by a Black model. Models of colour have tremendous value. 

With this research I hope the industry will fully wake up to the damaging impact of  underrepresentation by understanding that it not only impacts the mental wellbeing of their consumers but it also impacts their bottom line.

​The ethnic minority population is rapidly increasing as is inter-marrying which can foster the development of new ethnicities.

​As minority groups grow in number so too does their spending power with data revealing that minorities outspend majority ethnic consumers in numerous industries including technology and fashion.

Many brands attempt to connect to their racially diversified consumer base through marketing and advertising tools. However, many brands fail to acknowledge the vast differences in the consumer behaviour of ethnic groups, differences which may render certain marketing and advertising tools redundant.

To find out more about cultural differences in shopping habits check out the slide show below!


How we spend money on fashion according to our race. The Psychology of Fashion

​According to the 2012 ‘Multicultural Britain’ report, the combined disposable income of Black and Ethnic Minority consumers reached a staggering £300 billion in 2010, a figure that is continually rising.

Recently, in some instances (particularly in the case of Indian males) minorities appear to be out-earning their White counterparts. The IPA’s New Britain (2014) report estimated ethnic minorities spending power at £12-£15 billion per year (IPA, 2014) and these findings are not only restricted to the UK as studies have estimated the combined purchasing power of ethnic minorities in the US to be over $2 trillion (Race for Opportunity, 2015).

These figures appear to squash sentiments held by many consumer based industries who fail to target minorities under the impression that such groups don’t spend. In fact, whilst the current strength of the so-called ‘brown pound’ is evidence of the need for marketers to further engage minority consumers, issues often arise when the nuances in consumer behaviour between minority groups are overlooked.  

Marketers should refrain from viewing ethnic minorities as a homogeneous group

​When focusing solely on discretionary purchases the behavioural differences between ethnic minorities are apparent. A report by Hughes (2010) found that when compared to other ethnic groupings, White individuals spend the lowest proportion of their household expenditure (4.6%) on clothing and footwear. When focusing solely on ethnic minorities, although Mixed raced and Black households spend similar proportions of their household expenditure on clothing and footwear (5.1%) Asians appear to significantly outspend both Whites and their ethnic minority counterparts (6.4%). 

However, when solely considering hair and beauty products, Black African/Caribbean individuals reportedly spend six times more than any other group (Think Ethnic, 2014). Similarly, in the US, African Americans purchase nine times more beauty and grooming products than any other group (Neilsen, 2013) and often spend more on luxury products including clothes and jewellery than White consumers (Charles, Hurst and Roussanov, 2009). Furthermore, statistics from the 2009 Income, Expenditure, Poverty and Wealth report indicated that when solely considering footwear, Hispanics spend more than any other ethnic group (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). 

Ultimately, this data suggests that when compared to White consumers, minorities spend a greater proportion of their household earnings on discretionary purchases and this money is spent deferentially between ethnic minority groups. The results suggest that marketers should refrain from viewing ethnic minorities as a homogeneous group as studies have shown that the aforementioned distinction also mirrors the way in which the appeal of various marketing tools are cross-cut by race. ​