More Advertisers Are Tailoring TV Spots to Ethnicity of Viewers

A new Burger King TV spot features three African Americans who have their photos snapped in a photo booth at a carnival. Even the unseen narrator for the spot is an African American celebrity.

Don’t look for this commercial on “Seinfeld.”

While the NBC hit comedy ranks near the top with general viewers, it rates among the very least-watched of all shows by African Americans, says a new report by the New York advertising agency BBDO Worldwide. That’s why Burger King has instead placed its ethnic TV spot on all of the top five most popular TV shows among black viewers: No. 1--"Living Single” (Fox), No. 2--"Martin” (Fox), No. 3--"Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (NBC), No. 4--"Blossom” (NBC) and No. 5--"Family Matters” (ABC).

Advertisers from Burger King to Coca-Cola are paying closer attention to which shows African Americans watch. Black consumers--who number nearly 30 million and account for more than 12% of the U.S. population--represent America’s largest ethnic segment. What’s more, industry surveys have shown that they tend to be heavy viewers of prime-time network TV.


In order to reach the nation’s estimated 10.2 million African American households, advertisers increasingly recognize that they must often steer a different course from the mainstream. For years, many advertisers figured that if they broadcast ads on the most popular television shows, they pretty much had their bases covered with all ethnic groups. But that is clearly no longer the case.

Every three months, Burger King asks its ethnic agency, Uniworld Group, to develop its own list of the most popular shows with blacks. Usually--but not always--these top shows feature African Americans in featured roles. During the 1993-94 television season, the four major networks scheduled 25 shows with blacks in key roles--compared to 16 shows just two years ago.

“We figure about 15% of our customers are black,” said Michael Evans, a Burger King spokesman. “So about 15% of our media budget is aimed at blacks.”

A new Coca-Cola spot, featuring a group of black women singing “Always Coke” in a cappella tones, has recently begun to air on a number of shows that the soft drink maker believes are popular with black viewers. Among them: “Living Single” and “Martin.”


But Coke doesn’t simply rely on viewership numbers to determine where to place its ads, said James Latimore, director of African American consumer marketing at Coca-Cola. “Keep in mind, these numbers are reported after the fact,” he said. So beyond accessing the numbers, Coke asks its agency to screen all the upcoming shows and “help us make an educated guess” about which shows will be popular with which minority groups.

Not all advertisers say they are intent on knowing which shows blacks prefer.

Athletic shoe giant Nike, whose market is primarily 15- to 34-year-olds, says it is far more interested in targeting its customers by age.

“We’re not big advertisers on a race basis,” said Scott Bedbury, advertising manager. “Besides, that’s a very difficult thing to do on television.” While Nike advertises on a number of Fox Television shows, it does so primarily to target teen viewers, Bedbury said.

But BBDO executives insist the results of its study--based on Nielsen Media Research for the first half of the 1993-94 television season--are crucial to many advertisers.

“If you were to give a black viewer the choice of watching ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘Martin,’ I could almost assure you that ‘Seinfeld’ would lose out,” said Doug Alligood, vice president of special markets at BBDO. “Advertisers have to realize that the general market is not the whole market.”

At the same time, however, the study pointed out that black and non-black teen-agers do watch many of the same shows. In fact, 70% of the same TV programs appear on the top 20 lists of each group. “But as teens get older,” Alligood predicted, “they’ll unfortunately become more like their parents.”

A separate study on Latino viewing habits completed last year by the ad agency revealed that Latinos also have very different viewing habits from the mainstream market. No such study has yet been done on Asian American viewing preferences.


Fox Television continues to cash in on advertisers interested in reaching ethnic and teen viewers. Fox had five shows that ranked among the top 10 most popular with African Americans.

Fox executives say they are very aware of the network’s popularity among blacks. But they note that because non-blacks far outnumber African Americans in the United States, even the network’s most popular shows with blacks are viewed by audiences that are primarily white.

“We’re not exclusively programming to any audience,” said Dan McDermott, senior vice president of current programming at Fox. “We’re trying to program to the broadest possible audience without excluding anybody.”

Executives at CBS concede the network is not content with the fact that it had just a single show, “In the Heat of the Night,” that ranked among the top 20 viewed by blacks.

“We are always working to find ways to increase our performance with this audience,” said George Schweitzer, executive vice president of programming. He said the network has three black-targeted shows in development for next season, including two sitcoms and a drama.

Briefly . . .

Singapore Airlines has pulled all U.S. advertising because of publicity surrounding Michael Fay, the American teen-ager in Singapore sentenced to caning for vandalism. . . . The New York office of the Venice agency Chiat/Day has picked up the estimated $5-million ad account for Prince Sports Group, maker of rackets for tennis, racquetball and other sports. . . . Under an unusual reorganization at Chiat/Day, top senior executives are reducing administrative duties and picking up more day-to-day responsibility for key clients. . . . Pasadena-based Countrywide Funding Corp. has contacted several Los Angeles agencies about handling the creative portion of its estimated $8-million ad account.

Top 10 Shows in Black Households


African Americans favor very different television shows from all other TV viewers, according to a study of viewers by BBDO Worldwide and Nielsen Media Research conducted in the fourth quarter of 1993.

Rank among: Total Name Network Blacks Non-Blacks U.S. rank Living Single Fox 1 103* 58* Martin Fox 2 111 74* Fresh Prince of Bel Air NBC 3 32* 18 Blossom NBC 4 32* 23* Family Matters ABC 5* 45* 30 Married ... With Children Fox 5* 72* 51* Sinbad Show Fox 5* 86* 65* In Living Color Fox 8* 108 85* Thea ABC 9 70 53* George (canceled) ABC 10 82 69*

Top 10 Shows in All Households

Total Rank among: Name Network U.S. rank Non-Blacks Blacks Home Improvement ABC 1 1 29* 60 Minutes CBS 2 2 21 Roseanne ABC 3 3 29* Seinfeld NBC 4 4 105 Coach ABC 5 5 46 Frasier NBC 6 6 91 Grace Under Fire ABC 7 7 45 NFL Monday Night Football ABC 8 10 11* Murder, She Wrote CBS 9 8 56 Murphy Brown CBS 10 9 78*

* tie