Please Check the Appropriate Box: The Problems with Ethnic Identification and Its Potential in Cross-Cultural Marketing

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

An increasing number of consumers are identifying themselves as bi-racial and/or multi-racial. More and more, we will continue to see the blurring of races, and with that, come the blurring of cultural boundaries. In the 2000 Census, the government decided to allow people to check more than one racial box. As marketers and researchers, we need to recognize the potential problem that we may face in the very near future of how to market to and predict the buying behaviors of these mixed ethnic and cultural groups. Target marketing based on ethnicity is increasing in frequency and sophistication; however, little has been done in the way creating a unifying definition or theory on ethnic identification. With the lack of these crucial elements, the problems that we had in the 2000 Census, will continue to plague marketers and academicians alike.

ETHNIC IDENTIFICATION: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Green (1995) found one of the major challenges facing marketers in the present is the ability to successfully reach members of diverse cross-cultural groups. Raymond (2001) discovered that minorities have access to more than $900 billion dollars in annual spending power. Raymond also stated if the businesses of today intend to reap the benefits of this bulging consumer purse, they can no longer assume that all minorities are congregating in one area of the U.S or that any one marketing strategy will work for every member of the same ethnic group.

Cui (2001) defined ethnic marketing as the deliberate effort by marketers to reach a group of consumers presumably due to their unique ethnic characteristics. Ethnic target marketing is increasing in frequency and sophistication; however, there is still confusion as to how to market "ethnically". In order to correctly evaluate this situation, marketers need sound theoretical findings to substantiate using their current methods of target marketing. With a review of the literature, it has been shown that there is still much to develop and learn about ethnic identification before instructing others on how to utilize it in practice.

Ethnic Identity

Ethnic identity has been defined several different ways. Cheung (1993) stated that definitions of ethnic identity vary according to the underlying theory embraced by researchers' and scholars' intent on resolving its conceptual meanings. The fact that there is no widely agreed upon definition of ethnic identity is indicative of the confusion surrounding the topic. Some researchers (Bennett, 1975; Berry, 1980; Keefe and Padilla, 1987; Webster, 1994) defined ethnic identity as a more objective term (i.e. trait ethnicity). It is viewed as the traits from language, customs, values, national traits, and religion.

However, some researchers (Hirschman, 1981; Minor, 1992; Rossiter and Chan, 1998; Rotheram and Phinney, 1987; Stayman and Deshpande, 1989) describe strength of ethnic identification as a subjective means of one ascribing to an ethnic group based on their feelings of belongingness, how one feels in a particular situation, and one's thinking and behaviors based on that group membership.

P1: The conceptual definition of ethnic identity is the sum of the level of strength of identification, objective ethnicity, and subjective ethnicity.

The following theories address how the construct has been used in marketing research. It is important to understand the origins of the construct in order to better use it in future research. Without understanding how it was originally used would only further dilute the construct; therefore, adding to the confusion surrounding why there is not a solid theoretical framework developed to explain it.

In-Group Bias Theory

In-group bias theory proposed by Brewer (1979) suggests that bias toward members of one's own group represents favoritism toward the in-group. The theory argues that there is a greater social distance between an individual and members of the out-group and those individuals rely on bias toward members of the in-group in making comparisons and/or evaluations. …