Before the emergence of mass advertising in the latter half of the 19th century, salesmen directed their pitches to individuals or small groups of consumers. The specific interests of the audience were taken into account and the message content adjusted accordingly. When advertising in the form of print ads replaced direct sales pitches, it became much harder to tailor the content for the audience. Messages became "one size fits all" with all the issues that entails. Just as a baseball cap that fits most people will not fit some, the uniform messages of mass advertising sought out a lowest common denominator. Such messages worked for many, but their content was irrelevant or even offensive to some.
Changes in the "one size fits all" approach to advertising were made possible by the proliferation in media that cable TV ushered in. Instead of three big networks, advertisers now have many more outlets for TV commercials. Big name magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, Time, Newsweek, and Forbes have been joined or replaced by magazines aimed at specific audiences. A well stocked newsstand today offers magazines on topics like knitting, fly fishing, Do-It-Yourself projects, auto mechanics, health, and the like. Radio and the Internet operate similarly. These specialized media outlets make it possible for advertisers to direct specific content to more targeted audiences.
A growing awareness among marketers of the diversity of American consumers encourages them to pay attention to ethnic, racial, and cultural differences. Multiculturalism has emerged as one of America's most important social agendas in the 21st century. In advertising and marketing, it simply makes good business sense to take the culture of the consumer into account.
Advertisers know that all consumers are not the same in the 21st century marketplace. Special attention is directed to certain "niche" markets because of their size, buying power, and cultural differences. Hispanic (or Latino) and African-American consumers represent the two largest niche markets. There are others as well, such as Asian Americans, gays and lesbians, and seniors. Many advertisers tailor their messages to the particular interests, market behaviors, and sensitivities of these groups. What is being learned in niche marketing is spilling over into "mainstream" advertising, which increasingly attends to cultural differences among consumers.
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