How to target an ad to Native Americans?
August 15, 2005 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I need to design / lay out an ad targeting Native Americans, specifically those considering an MBA. Please help me not offend anyone.

The ad is copy heavy, about 200 words, so the graphic aspect will be limited. The timeline is very short: probably the day after tomorrow, the ad is for an MBA fellowship foundation, and a marketing pro with the client is writing the copy. We're both struggling with the knowledge that the Native American population is extremely diverse. The foundation benefits African Americans and Hispanic Americans also; NA's are their smallest constituency, therefore the unfortunate lack of knowledge. Any knowledgeable suggestions regarding non-obvious pitfalls I might encounter, or suggestions of graphic elements that have wide acceptance or importance among the NA population is greatly appreciated.
posted by MarvinTheCat to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
I'd advise NOT playing up the Native American at all. Just make a clean layout with nice typography and only if necessary, tasteful imagery.

If the ad is for Native Americans, it will be distributed to Native Americans using channels appropriate to reaching them. It's not going to sit on a table with a bunch of other ads for other cultures, leaving the Native Americans to try to find the one that matches them.

It bothers me, as a designer, when ethnic pieces overemphasize the culture unnecessarily -- and it's the quickest way to offed (at worst) or look cheesy (at best) because the designer of the piece is very rarely part of the target community.

How many times have you been to a Mexican restaurant where they've used the festive "Mexican" looking font you have on your computer? Or the menu for a Chinese restaurant with the names written in English, but with a font that looks reminiscent of Asian characters?

I find that offensive, but I'm kind of a snob.

You didn't indicate what level of design skill you have, so I guess I'd only warn you to NOT use any Native American "clip art" you might find laying around the web. No peace pipes or teepees or indian chiefs, and avoid any tribe symbology or references as it will invariably be insulting to anyone not in that tribe.
posted by robbie01 at 5:19 PM on August 15, 2005

I used to get promotional materials for Hispanic scholarships when I was an undergraduate. Most of them would emphasize individual stories of students as well as the individual details of the scholarship.

Perhaps you timeline might be a bit short, but it might be a good idea to find an MBA student who fits your target demographic and try and tell their story.
posted by Alison at 5:31 PM on August 15, 2005

I can't imagine you are going to successfully appeal to Native Americans when the best you are shooting for is not offending them.

Appealing to people in this way is usually pointless and very transparent. With all respect, whoever commissioned you should have either given you more to work with, or put you in touch with someone who knows about Native Americans. Even then...meh. I'm sure the Native American community is as diverse as the White middle class American community and thus there are a million ways to connect to that audience, best based primarily on individual qualities rather than race.
posted by fire&wings at 5:34 PM on August 15, 2005

Whatever you do, don't put pictures of people on it!!
I got awarded a scholarship for "female international students" and the accompanying flyer has photos of happy "international female students" on it, with all kinds of exciting foreign headwear and dresses and jewelry and hairdos that nobody actually wears in the real world of academics, where all the scholarship recipients were involved in.
Everything was just a bit over the top, probably because someone tried to "design for an international target" with the best intentions.

So in this case too, don't think of your target as Native Americans, just try to emphasize the "MBA fellowship" part of it. Maybe something about businesses, books, paperwork, studying, money. That's what's on the minds of your audience. They will think of themselves as "MBA students" first, and not as "Native American", especially when they have fellowships on their mind.
posted by easternblot at 6:07 PM on August 15, 2005

I suppose it's no use to explain to your client that nobody is going to read an ad with 200 words in it.

I manage marketing for a university unit and have struggled for years to explain to academics that they don't need to say everything in an ad. You need to get the viewer's attention, set a tone, present the brand and drive prospects to another source of information (website, brochure, information session, etc) where you can use more words.
posted by SashaPT at 6:08 PM on August 15, 2005

Sasha's right about copy length. You might also take a look at the ad campaign for the Native American college fund, where they ask about "meeting a real Indian," and just use shots of hot people who have some books in their hands (and are of vaguely indigenous ethnicity— but are more just hot).
posted by klangklangston at 7:14 PM on August 15, 2005

One big thing in Native American Reservation communities is educating young folks so they can return to the rez to spur local economic development. You could target your ads to community leaders and elders demonstrating that MBAs are mobile degrees that can help reinvigorate a depressed economy.
posted by jmgorman at 7:41 PM on August 15, 2005

The company I work for does work for Indian Country clients quite often, and all I can say is that you cannot underestimate the amount of restraint you should exercise.

Do your best to find someone from within the culture to run ideas by.
posted by o2b at 8:42 PM on August 15, 2005

you cannot underestimate the amount of restraint you should exercise.

Don't you mean "cannot overestimate" there?
posted by mediareport at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2005

Years ago, I was on the San Carlos Apache reservation when the topic of the day was U of A's plan to build a telescope on Mount Graham, just off the rez but sacred to the tribe. The politically correct opinion was to be against the scope. As an Anglo visitor, I hewed to this opinion. A smart young Apache man called me on it. "What, you think Indians don't like science?" Changed my view of a lot of things. Just be straightforward about the fund's goals. Don't patronize.
posted by realcountrymusic at 9:29 PM on August 15, 2005

ERASING NATIVE AMERICAN STEREOTYPES from the Smithsonian is aimed at teachers but may be useful for you.
posted by LarryC at 10:23 PM on August 15, 2005

Planet Youth has a list of Native American scholarship websites that could give you a good idea of how others have approached this issue.

Don't be afraid to call an organization or two and ask for their opinion. I imagine many organizations would be happy to help you come up with an effective way of increasing awareness in Native communities about fellowship opportunities.
posted by carmen at 7:12 AM on August 16, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, for your thoughts.

I can't imagine you are going to successfully appeal to Native Americans when the best you are shooting for is not offending them.

I'm using my experience to and other skills to appeal to them; I'm appealing to Metafilter to help me realize what I haven't thought of.

I agree that typography is probably the best solution, I just need to see the dang copy. However, the client just called and said she had a "2:00 am epiphany" so that should be interesting.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 7:59 AM on August 16, 2005

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