Earlier this year, Coca-Cola’s Senior VP of Integrated Marketing, Wendy Clark, warned, “If your plans don’t include mobile, then your plans are not finished.”

But a mobile plan that ignores ethnicity is equally as incomplete, according to statistics revealed recently by Nielsen in The New Digital American Family, a study of family dynamics, media and purchasing habits.

Just as visible minorities are adopting social media in higher numbers than their Caucasian counterparts, their adoption of smartphones outstrips the national average.

As of December 2010, 31 percent of all mobile users in the U.S. had smartphones. Among white mobile users, however, only 27 percent reported owning a smartphone, such as an Android, BlackBerry or iPhone.

By comparison, 45 percent of Asians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics owned smartphones. Likewise, 33 per cent of African-Americans choose app-based smartphones with web-enabled operating systems over traditional feature devices.

With 95 million smartphones expected to sell in the U.S. during 2011, a mobile marketer who overlooks the high levels of ethnic diversity among users is effectively leaving money on the table.

Smartphone adoption among US mobile users by ethnicity (Source: The Nielsen Company)


Smartphone OS (operating system) use by ethnicity (Source: The Nielsen Company)

Get granular

As multicultural marketing company Translation says on its website, “The difference between ethnic stereotyping and cultural accuracy is all in the details.”

In mobile marketing, that means tailoring your campaign to each user group’s preferences because Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians use their phones differently.

For example, Hispanics are more likely than the average U.S. household to have cell phones with Internet and video capabilities. Plus, Hispanics write more texts than any other race or ethnicity, sending 943 texts per month, versus the national average of 740.

African-Americans run up more mobile voice minutes per month (1,261) than any other group. And at 36 percent, Asians and Pacific Islanders prefer Apple’s iPhone to all other operating systems – more than anyone else. —

Marketers ought to get granular and design a mobile marketing plan that reflects the nuances of how different ethnic groups are adopting and adapting to smartphones.

Pepsi vs. Coke

Successful examples of well-crafted multicultural mobile campaigns exist in both the commercial and nonprofit arenas.

During the lead up to Super Bowl XLV in February, Pepsi launched its Familia de Campeones campaign, targeting the Hispanic community.

Over the course of the eight-week campaign, Pepsi generated 123,000 opt-ins through a mobile microsite, SMS, and QR codes on point-of-sale materials in Hispanic-targeted locations across the country. Once on the site, users were able to upload a family photo and create a free customized poster mailed to them within 4-6 weeks.

Similarly, Coca-Cola created a mobile campaign in June for attendees of the Essence Music Festival, the U.S.’s largest music and empowerment event for African-American women.

During a performance on the main stage, the audience was asked to text “celebrate” followed by their first and last name to a designated number. The first 500 people to do so were rewarded with tickets to a barbecue event, as well as four VIP passes to the festival. Within 30 seconds, 3,145 people had responded, according to Coke.

Mobile activism

Community advocacy groups like Reform Immigration For America (RI4A) are also tapping mobile phones to engage support for immigration reform legislation. By texting “justice” to 69866, citizens can join the Immigration Cell Phone Action Network. As of June 2010, RI4A has built the largest bilingual mobile advocacy list in American history with 150,000 subscribers and more than 340,000 calls made for reform.

Likewise, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) recently launched OurChinatown, a hyperlocal news and culture blog driven primarily by mobile journalism. Reporters covering Manhattan’s Chinatown use smartphones to gather news and file stories, video and photos in real time. The mobile-optimized website features stories in English, the best of which are also translated into Chinese.

When marketers – and community advocates – take the time to craft multicultural mobile campaigns, the results are clear. It’s not enough to just integrate mobile into your marketing plans, as Coca-Cola’s Wendy Clark suggests. You should also ensure that your plan reflects how the smartphone’s most enthusiastic American adopters – Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians – prefer to use their mobile devices.