Targeting ethnic groups without alienating the broader market

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lessons from political advertising for the 2013 New York City (NYC) elections.


Cultural relevance is a key consideration for politicians wanting to gain votes in NYC. Due to its longstanding history of international immigration and the size of its various ethnic communities, a significant portion of New Yorkers remain highly involved with their heritage. In NYC, 37% of the population is foreign-born and 49% of the population over 5 years old speaks a language other than English at home; plus, 43% of Bronx and 36% of Brooklyn residents are racially Black with a cultural background that is either African-American, Afro-Caribbean or African [1].


NYC also has the highest number of people per square mile among American municipalities with a population above 100,000,[2] which means that its residents live in very close proximity to people from various cultures. This unique aspect of NYC challenges campaigning politicians to conduct outreach that speaks to the needs of specific groups without alienating the broader audience living in the same neighborhood. Below are examples and lessons from the way in which three NYC democratic candidates approached that issue:


1. Christine Quinn for Mayor: targeting Hispanics in Spanish without alienating non-Spanish speakers (Latinos or other groups).


  • Built credibility on “results”, showing how she has benefited diverse groups: workers, families, renters (see 11×8.5 Stronger #1)

  • Made English more prominent than Spanish in direct mail (DM) and online, but missed linking DM to web for more in-depth information in Spanish (see website)

  • Delivered key campaign takeaways in Spanish, using alternate copy where a literal translation from English did not make sense (see 10.5×6 Stronger)

  • One DM piece targeted to hourly-wage workers used images that were too narrowly focused on maids, which may alienate other Hispanics (see 10.5×6 Weaker)

  • Other DM examples and “do’s & don’ts”: 11×8.5 Stronger #211×8.5 Weaker

2. Ken Thompson for Brooklyn DA: promising justice for Black and Latino men without giving other people the impression that he will be soft on crime.


  • Balanced a visual of himself as a powerful Black male, which gives credibility to his “justice” claim, with images of himself with his family and his constituents that conveys his overall commitment to “no crime” (see Trifold – Outside)

  • Primarily addressed the “justice” needs of ethnic audiences, without omitting issues that appeal to a broader audience, such as taking down gangs, and defending victims of sexual assault and domestic violence (see Trifold – Inside)

  • Executed fully bilingual negative political advertising that singled out opponent’s failure to meet ethnic and broader “justice” needs (see 8.5×11)


3. Reshma Saujani for Public Advocate: empowering immigrant women by celebrating their cultural diversity, without singling out a specific ethnic group.

  • Showcased several languages spoken in NYC on DM’s front panel while using diverse female imagery (including Caucasian) in interior panels (see 10-Panel).

  • However, that same piece did not include one visual of an ethnic woman with her family, ignoring a key advancement motivator for Latino, African and Asian females.

  • Also missed an opportunity to create and call out a multilingual website featuring the DM’s strong and concise selling points (one page per language on its front cover).


[1] U.S. Census, American Community Survey 5-year estimate (2007-2011) data.
[2] Wikipedia “Demographics of New York City” article.






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