MMR in the News

View articles featuring news about MMR or quoting us as well as articles by Lisa Skriloff, President of Multicultural Marketing Resources, Inc.

Lisa Skriloff quoted in MarketWatch article "How liquor companies are breaking into minority markets" along with client Leo Olper, D Exposito & Partners marketing executive

How liquor companies are breaking into minority markets


At the 2015 Whisky Jewbilee in New York.

To the casual observer, a recent gathering of whiskey aficionados at a trendy New York catering space might have appeared like any high-end tasting affair. The crowd was a typical one — primarily professionals in their 20s through 50s. The routine was familiar, too: At each tasting station, brand representatives talked up their spirits — mostly top-shelf single-malt Scotches and bourbons — with a geeky enthusiasm and then offered samples of the pricey pours.

But to those paying closer attention, a few signs suggested this night was different from all other nights, to borrow an apt phrase from a Jewish text. For starters, many of the men in attendance wore a yarmulke, the skullcap associated with the Jewish faith. And the feast that accompanied the drinking was strictly kosher, replete with the classic Jewish stew known as cholent.

In short, this wasn’t just any whiskey festival. It was the Whisky Jewbilee, a one-of-a-kind gathering of Jews with a passion for quality booze. The annual New York bash, put together by a company appropriately called the Jewish Whisky Company, is gaining fast in popularity since its inception in 2012. Even with $125 ticket price, attendance has doubled to 450, and the number of brands represented has nearly tripled to 80. Moreover, the festival is going national: Jewbilees are planned in the coming months for Chicago and Seattle.

But in a larger sense, the Jewbilee represents a growing movement in the spirits industry to court all sorts of sizable or significant racial and ethnic groups — Hispanics (which constitute 17.1% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau), African-Americans (13.2%), Asian-Americans (5.3%), and, yes, even the relatively small but affluent American Jewish market (religious Jews make up just 1.8% of the U.S. population, but 25% of American Jewish households have incomes of $150,000-plus, according to the Pew Research Center.)

The movement comes at a time when the booze business is posting healthy numbers: U.S. supplier sales were up 4% to $23.1 billion in 2014, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). (Retail sales were nearly $70 billion.) But industry watchers and insiders alike say the business, which is very much subject to changing tastes (this year’s “it” drink can be next year’s bottle gathering dust on a bar’s back shelf), must pay heed to how the consumer marketplace is evolving.

And that means the industry, which for decades largely targeted the white mainstream (think the “Mad Men”-era, three-martini-lunch crowd), now has to view the world (or at least the U.S.) with a multicultural mindset. After all, ours is a country where the so-called minority is rapidly becoming the majority: Today, 50.2% of the children under the age of five in the U.S. are minorities, according to the Census Bureau. “The population as a whole has become more racially and ethnically diverse,” says the Census.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and his brother Danny Simmons have partnered with Bombay Sapphire.

In turn, this means spirits companies are investing heavily — to the tune of millions of dollars — in their outreach to minorities. Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company has gone as far as to commit 35% of its advertising budget to the multicultural segment, according to a story a few years ago in Shanken News Daily, an industry trade journal. (The company’s U.S. marketing and advertising budget topped $800 million in 2014, according to its annual report; Diageo officials would not respond to a request for comment about specifics relating to its current multicultural marketing budget, except to say the budget is now broken down somewhat differently.)

As Rodney Williams, an executive vice president with Moet Hennessy, another spirits giant, puts it, there was time in the business world when the “ethnic marketing budget was always the last to be funded and the first to be cut in budget in tightening. Those days are gone.”

Moet Hennessy’s approach in the multicultural market reflects this commitment.

The company targets just about every group with ad campaigns, promotions, parties and charitable endeavors. In the Hispanic community, it hosts “Latinos in Baseball” events that recognize the important achievements of that group to the sport. In the Asian-American community, it has put on a party in celebration of the Chinese New Year. (It has also released a 250th-anniversary limited-edition bottling of its Hennessy Cognac with deep-pocketed Asian-American consumers in mind.) And in the African-American community, where Cognac has been historically popular, it maintains ties by bringing hip-hop star Nas aboard as a Hennessy brand pitchman and by supporting the National Urban League. Indeed, the ties are so strong that Ebony magazine has gone so far as to call Hennessy “the unofficial spirit of Black America.”

But Moet Hennessy is far from alone, as other spirits brands and companies are making similar inroads with multicultural constituencies. At Beam Suntory, there’s a push to create sales materials in Spanish, according to Jamie MacKenzie, a sales executive with the company’s line of single-malt Scotches. (Mackenzie is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Whisky Jewbilee, saying it’s “an opportunity to look more broadly beyond the obvious events and meet some new consumers.”)

At Bombay Sapphire, the popular gin owned by Bacardi, there are efforts to connect with Asian-Americans via a sponsorship of the Luckyrice Asian food festivals around the country and with African-American community through a collaboration with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons’s Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation — specifically, on an “Artisan Series” of events highlighting emerging visual artists.

Bombay managing director Ned Duggan says such partnerships are really attempts to reach the broader culture, since the lines distinguishing the ethnic and mainstream markets are indeed blurring. (At the risk of stating the obvious in relation to Duggan’s point, the audience for hip-hop has long moved beyond just the African-American community.) Nevertheless, Duggan says, spirits companies must be mindful of America’s shifting ethnography. “If you don’t take a multicultural approach to marketing, you’re not going to be successful in the next 10 to 15 years,” he says.

Not that spirits companies completely ignored minorities in the past. The case with Cognac is a telling one: It’s been said that anywhere from 50% to 90% of Cognac sales in the U.S. come from African-American consumers. A 2013 story in Slate chronicled how the spirit first became popular with this group when African-American soldiers “were introduced to it during both world wars.” By the ‘50s, ad campaigns for Hennessy starting appeared in African-African publications. In the decades that followed, all the other major Cognac brands followed suit in different ways. Courvoisier also benefitted from being the subject of the 2001 Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy hit, “Pass the Courvoisier.”

Still, spirits companies are increasingly looking to break beyond such easy or long-established associations between minorities and specific drink categories (think Hispanics and rum or tequila). “Brands need to grow,” says Leo Olper, a marketing executive with New York-based D Exposito & Partners who has been working with Pernod Ricard, another spirits giant, on positioning its Absolut vodka brand with Hispanic consumers. Part of Olper’s strategy: Promoting Hispanic-themed cocktails, such as ones with tropical juices or ingredients, that can also incorporate the vodka.

But as booze brands try to make such connections, multicultural marketing experts warn that they always run a risk of appearing to be pandering to a minority. Or even worse, they can misread a group altogether. “All kind of things could go wrong,” says Lisa Skriloff, president of Multicultural Marketing Resources, a New York consulting firm. Similarly, Courtney Jones, vice president of multicultural growth and strategy for Nielsen, the prominent research firm, says, businesses often “feel there’s a certain challenge in tapping (minorities) in a genuine way.”

One noteworthy misstep happened in 2014 when Moet Hennessy launched a promotional campaign, built with the African-American community in mind, that suggested cocktails to enjoy on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (or “Drinks MLK Jr. Would Be Proud Of,” to quote the campaign.) Soon after, the brand halted the campaign and apologized for the “inappropriate media communication.” Today, Moet Hennessy’s Williams says the company learned a valuable lesson “about the limits of promotion and celebration, especially in regards to a national holiday and historical figure of such solemn importance.”

But even when spirits companies get it right in their multicultural marketing — and most industry observers say they’re generally getting it right — it would be an overstatement to suggest such outreach is defining how booze is promoted today. As observers note, the fact remains most spirits are still targeted to the white mainstream — that is, the group that constitutes 77.7% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. If anything, the real “minority” that has been getting attention of late are women drinkers, with spirits companies increasingly introducing new brands, such as flavored whiskeys, with this all-important segment in mind. “Whiskey brands have learned the lesson that targeting men alone no longer works,” says Noah Rothbaum, a prominent writer who covers the liquor industry.

Sure enough, there were plenty of women in attendance at the recent New York Whisky Jewbilee. But just as important may be the fact that as the event grows in popularity — this year, organizers had to turn away about 100 would-be ticket-buyers — a number of non-Jews are joining the party. To some extent, that’s emblematic of what experts say is happening with multicultural marketing in general these days — by appealing to the minority, you may also hook the majority.

Multicultural Marketing Resources mentioned in NBC News #superbowl ads article on NBC BLK "Minority Owned Advertising Agencies Shut Out on Game Day" along with clients Monique L. Nelson, UWG Chairman/ CEO @MoniqueUWGCEO and Ron Campbell, President and Chief Strategist, Campbell-Communications @ronstrategydoc

Minority Owned Advertising Agencies Shut Out on Game Day

As viewer's gear up for Super Bowl XLIX most companies have pre-released their advertisements, diverting from the sacred practice of holding them until game day. News broke on Wednesday that ad spots have sold out, costing up to $4.5 million dollars for a 30 second spot. One hundred million viewers are expected to tune in on Sunday.

With the recent success of primetime network shows featuring black actors in leading roles like "Empire" and "How to Get Away With Murder," and the rave reviews for first couple weeks of "The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore," the need for diversity in entertainment has taken center stage. Many are wondering if the advertising industry will be next.

There are only 161 black owned ad agencies in the United States according to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners. While that number has probably increased in the last eight years, there is a definite lack of representation in the ad world. Let's look at the numbers of the audience in question.

Recent stats from the Census Bureau indicate that America is 77 percent white. Asians were the fastest growing group in the U.S. in 2014, also making up the largest share of recent immigrants. Pew Research Center projects that the Hispanic population will rise to 29% by 2050, making them the largest minority group in the United States. Views on same-sex marriage are rapidly changing with 52% of Americans in support.

Based on the above stats, minority owned ad agencies should have a seat at the table to further reflect America's demographics and align with a more global outlook. But it's probably easier said than done.

Ron Campbell, owner and CEO of Campbell Communications points out the most obvious problematic caveat. "People who create the advertising are primarily not black." Campbell has had over 40 years of experience in advertising and whose company is a member of Multicultural Marketing Resources, a web directory for advertisers to connect with minorities in the advertising industry. "In some cases they say they feel some inclusion is going to help their sales. It's not that they think these groups aren't worthwhile consumers, part of it is that they just don't know how to create an insightful strategy," said Campbell.

UWG, also known as UniWorld Group, was created by Byron Lewis 47 years ago to counter the lack of diversity in advertising. In 2012, UWG hired Monique Nelson as the CEO, after working for the company since 2007. In 2014, Black Enterprise Magazinelisted UWG as the number eight black owned ad company in the U.S. "We're talking about a changing dynamic that won't change on a dime," Nelson said. With 100 million viewers, ad companies have the difficult task of making sure their messages are not only seen but received. They're also "trying to figure out when is culture important versus when a broader message is most affective," according to Nelson.

But there are companies that are giving it a try. Toyota's "To be a dad" campaign profiles four black dads, football players, DeMarcus Ware, LaVar Arrington, Fred Jackson and Kurt Warner.

And the mobile company Mojo created a striking "Apocalypse Now" type ad that shows the end of the world, revealing that a black God caused the turmoil because, get this, his cell phone is dying.

Other black celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Marshawn Lynch will also appear in Super Bowl ads. Looking ahead to Super Bowl 50, the planning committee for next year's big show announced that they are extending contracts specifically for businesses owned by women and members of the LGBT community. Nelson is hopeful. "I think it's great. I think there's talent everywhere but we overlook it because it's really easy to do the same old thing."

One can only hope that in a business based on numbers, ad execs will take a look at their target reach, their audience.

Lisa Skriloff quoted in article “Multicultural Marketing: Who needs it ?” Bottom Line, October 2014

MMR Quoted or Featured

Lisa Skriloff Featured in "What's In Your Hand?" Radio Show (WHCR 90.3FM), February 8, 2013

"Multicultural Marketing Resources Announces Establishment of its Corporate Recruitment Division," Bulldog Reporter, November 29, 2012

"Hispanic Public Relations Association names Lisa Skriloff of Multicultural Marketing Resources as May 2012 Member of the Month!"

Hispanic Public Relations Association Hispanic Public Relations Association (44 KB)

"Car Campaigns for all Consumers," Detroit News, December 8, 2011

Detroit News (December 2011) Detroit News (December 2011) (489 KB)

"9 Great Business Ideas for 2013," BusinessNewsDaily June 26, 2012

"Experts at Multicultural Small Biz Conference show owners how to write a script for success," The New York Daily News, June 27, 2011

"McDonald’s Courts Asian New Yorkers," CitySpoonful, March 28, 2011

"The Most Common Negotiating Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them," Business on Main, February 25, 2011

"Enhanced tools offer added insight," Hispanic Market Weekly, November 30, 2010

"Minority Marketing: A Talent War Brews," The Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2010

Watch video of Lisa Skriloff, President, Multicultural Marketing Resources interviewed (during PRSA's 2010 Sliver Anvil Judging) about diversity, Census 2010 and the growth of multicultural communications; October 2010

The Voice of Online Marketing - My Favorite Online Marketing Tool," MarketingVOX, May 20, 2010

"Obama Tax Credits Aimed at Small-Business Hiring," Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2010

"5 proven tips to reach a niche business audience," FuelNet, August 11, 2009

Lisa Skriloff interviewed on, October 8, 2009

“Disney adds African-American Princess Tiana to royal family,” USA Today, February 16, 2009 

"A New Venture for Jay-Z, on Madison Avenue," The New York Times, February 8, 2008

"Ethnic Marketing," Brandweek, January 1, 2007

"Companies view ethnic holidays like Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day as a way to reach a niche," The New York Times, December 30, 1998

Articles authored by Lisa Skriloff, President, Multicultural Marketing Resources, Inc.

“Resorts begin Asian American PR outreach,” featured in O’Dwyer’s PR Report, June 2010 “Resorts begin Asian American PR outreach,” featured in O’Dwyer’s PR Report, June 2010 (1454 KB)

“The Case for Multicultural Communications,” O’Dwyer’s PR Report, June 2009 “The Case for Multicultural Communications,” O’Dwyer’s PR Report, June 2009 (2204 KB)

Marketing to a Multicultural Nation Marketing to a Multicultural Nation (173 KB)