IT WOULD not be much of an exaggeration to say that former breakdancing enthusiast Sanjay Shabi is a prophet of the advertising industry, having seen the way forward to a vast and untapped new market over 20 years ago.
It is a path that many, if not most, of his peers are still oblivious to. For despite its stylish and hip reputation, some critics insist that the worlds of media and advertising remain in thrall to safe and conventional assumptions, especially where the development of new, “white space” markets is concerned.
One example of this, as pointed out in detail by researchers Nielsen and industry voices such as Bob Hoffman, is the way in which the over-50s – the richest and soon-to-be most populous consumer group in the West – are largely ignored by young media go-getters who do not understand that they themselves are not the customers.
Another example of an untapped market is one that Shabi identified in its foetal stage and has since nurtured almost to maturity – the standalone power of the ethnic pound and the advantages of advertising to it. Shabi works for the giant MediaCom organisation, one of the planet’s most extensive media buying agencies, which operates 116 offices across 89 countries. Within it, as director of CultureCom, an internal unit focusing on ethnic advertising, he specialises in appealing to the BME sector.
In 1960s New York, Byron Lewis Sr addressed black America for the first time when he saw its growing economic potential. He established UniWorld Group (UGW) to reflect media images of blacks back to themselves, then took black advertising mainstream (UGW now advertises for the US Marines, for example).
Shabi is blazing a similar trail for British Asians. “The difficulty is in establishing how media owners are reaching these [BME] audiences,”