American Indian Marketing

Insights

The American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) community is the smallest, yet oldest, racial segment in the U.S., accounting for over 5.2 million people or roughly 2% of the country’s population. And this community represents what is, perhaps, the most under-served consumer market in advertising today.

Unfortunately, when you think of American Indian advertising, you might immediately consider those U.S. companies who have opted to attach Native American Indian images to their products. In many instances, the use of these images completely disregards the complexity of indigenous cultures and makes light of tribal histories and traditions. This is most assuredly not an example of marketing to a diverse consumer community, but rather, it demonstrates a pronounced lack of knowledge and sensitivity on the part of these organizations.

On the other hand, American Indians represent a relatively untapped market from an advertising perspective. In many parts of the country, Native Americans represent the largest minority population and, as a result, exercise a significant amount of consumer influence. Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota and editor of Native Sun News shares a telling story: “Many years ago, the Chairman of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota grew tired of hearing from his people about their mistreatment in stores within the neighboring communities. He decided to make the entire payroll of his tribal employees in two-dollar bills. These merchants were puzzled and shocked to see all of the two-dollar bills filling their cash registers. They began to look at the Red Lake citizens with a little more respect after that because they now saw them as active consumers of goods.”

As with other diverse communities, this group of “active consumers” is not a monolithic population nor is there a single “tradition” or image that binds all American Indians together. Therefore, it is imperative to dig a little deeper to understand the role of segmentation and the value of informed, respectful, and results-oriented messaging within a targeted advertising campaign.

Hispanidad’s work within tribal communities has largely been focused on transportation safety and quality of life messaging. In this context, it is important to understand that motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of deaths among Native Americans. It is equally vital to appreciate the role of cultural identity and its importance to people’s sense of self. Cultural identify can be a critical component of effective advertising and message development.

An excellent example of the power of culturally- and linguistically-relevant marketing can be seen on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, the 7th largest Indian reservation in the nation and home to the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho tribes.

In an effort to save lives and promote healthy communities, the Wyoming Department of Transportation has partnered with Hispanidad since 2010, to create advertising campaigns designed to address tribal traffic safety issues. Five annual campaigns focused on impaired driving, occupant protection, child passenger safety, pedestrian safety and school bus safety, have been successfully rolled out within the community, resulting in a 69% decrease in fatalities!

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