A Politically Charged Issue

Ethnic marketing has always been a bit of a touchy subject. It raises questions of cultural sensitivity, what is authentic and sincere and what is not, and how to develop content that is appropriate for consumers of different ethnic backgrounds. This month Beverage Industry Associate Editor Jennifer Zegler examines some of the latest efforts in ethnic marketing in an article beginning on page 52, and as she mentions in the story, the topic recently became even more charged for one beverage company.
The Chicago Tribune reported early this month that Miller Brewing Co. would be a sponsor of a Labor Day immigration march in Chicago. The report said Miller paid more than $30,000 for a planning convention, materials and newspaper ads to publicize the event. As a result, a coalition of more than 100 groups called for a boycott of Miller products, accusing the company of backing illegal immigration.
Ironically, reports indicate that Miller was criticized earlier in the year — and threatened with a boycott by pro-immigration groups — over contributions to a Wisconsin congres-sional representative who sponsored a bill for tougher immigration laws.
For its part, Miller says it was not a sponsor of the Chicago march. “Miller Brewing Co. has never supported illegal immigration and we have always supported the full enforcement of current U.S. laws,” it said in a statement.
“Going forward, Miller will closely review all requests for support from community and charitable organizations to ensure that we are not indirectly funding or associating our name with advocacy efforts on the immigration issue. We plan to stick to the business of brewing, marketing and selling great beer.”
It would be easy to say that consumer goods companies should simply stay out of politics and do as Miller says, stick to making great products. But it’s often assumed these days that any company worth its marketing budget has an ethnic marketing component, and such campaigns always have involved questions of authenticity. Does a company start to look superficial or insincere if it bottles a product in bilingual packaging or sponsors a Cinco de Mayo celebration but ignores a subject that is so important to immigrant groups?
The Internet blog postings that popped up over the Labor Day march indicate how strong the feelings are on the other side of the issue as well. If the immigration debate continues to be as heated as it has been in recent months, an already delicate subject may become even more difficult for marketers to navigate.
SneAk Peek
Corporate Profile — Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated
Special Report — Retail initiatives
Category Focus — Private label
Beverage R&D — Sensory ingredients
Packaging — Environmentally friendly options

Corporate Profile — Pepsi Bottling Group
Category Focus — Energy drinks
Beverage R&D — Dairy ingredients
Distribution — 2007 trucks and trailers
Logistics — Material handling-conveyors