If their money’s green.
That, in my long experience of covering business here in the United States of Capitalism, is the boiled-down, nitty-gritty, base reason anybody does business with anyone else. They’re ex-cons. “Is their money green?” They hate kids and puppies. “Is their money green?” They adore Donald Trump. “Is their money green?”
That’s why I was perplexed by comments made by Randall Rothenberg, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, in his state of techno-advertising address in January. IAB’s membership consists more than 600 of the biggest ad agencies, media, and tech companies serving clients as diverse as Coca-Cola, Colt Firearms, and Children’s Aid International. None of these clients, I imagine, really care who’s sending them the money, nor even if it’s green, as long as it ends up on their balance sheets. If they get lots of it, they retain their digital marketers, and all’s right with the world. But here was Rothenberg asking marketers to put money second and focus on doing good. He urged them to promote fairness and diversity as ends in themselves versus means to an end. “[Focusing solely on profit] is debilitating” he said, “and, ultimately, deadens the soul” (the possession of which would traditionally make one unfit for duty on Madison Avenue).
Rothenberg was lathered up about ad blockers and, especially, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who armed users of his browser with blockers. Plus, the IAB chief noted derisively, Eich dared to fund campaigns to ban gay marriage in California. This was where Randall lost me completely. Apparently, his appeal for diversity and inclusion meant excluding the people who deemed same-sex marriage counter to their religious beliefs. There happen to be some 41 million of them.
Chris Stone is a long-time market researcher who founded an online community called Faith Driven Consumer in 2013, inspired by the media venom that descended on Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he spoke out against gay marriage. As brand after brand condemned Robertson, Stone wondered how many consumers actually stood with Robertson and launched a nationwide survey that led him to hit upon that 41 million total.
“We asked people to rate from one to 10 the part faith played as a driver of where they work, what they buy, and what entertainment they watch,” Stone says. “The ones who rated the role of faith an eight, nine, or 10 we considered ‘faith-driven.’ When you look at the overall Christian market, 25% are faith-driven and 75% are not. The latter group’s actions are unpredictable, but faith is the main decider for the former group.”
Stone’s experience in marketing led him to believe that most brands and agencies were blind to the existence of this fairly large segment, so he followed up with a survey that produced the Faith Equality Index, which rates companies on a 100-point scale on how they embrace people of faith. The index counts faith-friendly brands as ones meriting a score of 50 or above or that are in the top 10% of their industries. Even Randall Rothenberg might be astounded at how ignored this community is. Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, outwardly Christian companies, both scored just above 60.
I sent Stone a copy of Rothenberg’s remarks and asked him for his reaction. He was unfazed. He continually discovers sophisticated marketers who fail to appreciate that faith-driven consumers are “the most diverse and the most homogenous group at the same time.” One out of every six faith-driven consumers is African-American, one out of every seven is Hispanic.
“Let’s pick a company,” Stone says. “AT&T has a perfect 100 rating with the LGBT community, and an almost perfect 95 with Hispanics. They’re in the top 40 with African-Americans. They’re the poster child for diversity and inclusion. But in our rating they earned a 17. Now, is that a mass conspiracy? Actually, what we’ve found is that they have been ignorant of the community.”
There are brands that work with Faith Driven Consumer, availing themselves of its extensive mail, email, and social media lists, though most of companies are already focused on the faith community. Sony’s Affirm Films,which produces movies based on religious themes, recently worked with Stone’s group to promote the movie War Room. Although there are small and large brands alike targeting faith-based consumers, the reality, Stone says, is that these consumers are probably the 41 million Americans most ignored by marketers.
“The market is immature. There are few companies, if any, working it really well,” Stone says. Even America’s largest retailer has no expertise in this area, he says, though he wouldn’t name it. But that’s Walmart, and that’s a company whose every store used to start the day with a staff meeting concluded with a prayer.
If there are any digital marketers out there looking for a wide-open segment to exploit, politically incorrect as they may be, here’s one. Their money’s green and, most likely, legally obtained. If you care. Which you probably don’t.