Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The “Super-Sizing” of America

By: Michael Steele, President and CEO 
Advantage Communications, Inc.

Since our inception in early 2000, Advantage Communications, Inc. has taken great pride in our approach to not being your “traditional” group of marketers. We consider ourselves to be a different type of agency in that we specialize in speaking to the needs of ALL consumers. Additionally, we have established ourselves as both domestic and international communications gurus. Our “sweet spot”, however, is health communications as it pertains to addressing public health challenges and advocating constructive behavior modifications.

To name just one example of our success in the realm of public health, Advantage Communications, Inc. has been and remains a long-standing pioneer in the fight against minority tobacco consumption. But now, we’ve come to realize we’re on the brink of a new tobacco… a public health issue that is currently affecting many Arkansans and citizens of the United States, particularly minorities …one that will continue to plague us if we do not adopt an aggressive approach for social and physiological change…one that can be fought, but the first step is acknowledgment.

The name? OBESITY.

Why is it that so many of us feel as though we’re invincible or somewhat immune to certain aliments and illnesses? Look at the facts. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and now obesity -- which largely contributes to many of these illnesses. Understanding there are several intangible factors (such as hereditary and/or genetic dispositions) that may influence why one person is affected by an illness and another of a similar demographic profile is not, we must also understand that some factors we do control. Eating is one of these factors. 

Below are just a few of the startling statistics we found from the Office of Minority Health about the impact of the obesity epidemic on African Americans and Hispanic Americans:

  • African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. 
  • In 2007, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as Non-Hispanic Whites. 
  • In 2003-2004, African American children between ages 6-17 were 1.3 times as likely to be overweight than Non-Hispanic whites. 
  •  From 2003-2006, Mexican American women were 30% more likely to be overweight, as compared to Non-Hispanic Whites. 
  • In 2007, Hispanic adults were 50% less likely to engage in active physical activity as Non-Hispanic Whites. 

Beyond these statistics, a 2009 press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated, “Blacks had 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics had 21 percent higher obesity prevalence compared with whites.” Dr. William H. Dietz, Director of CDC′s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity said, “If we have any hope of stemming the rise in obesity, we must intensify our efforts to create an environment for healthy living in these communities.”

With the increasing diversity of the U.S. population – soon to be more than half the total population over the next few years – comes a tax. The tax is a disproportionate incidence of obesity closely aligned with minority growth rates. Of course, this is not to say minorities are the only groups affected by obesity. Yet, we continue to feel the heavy burden.

According to a 2010 New York Times article entitled “A Shift Toward Fighting Fat”, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest private funding source for fighting smoking, has pledged to spend $500 million in five years to battle childhood obesity. Just as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has risen to the occasion to “face the fat”, such must also be the case for the communications and media industry.

We know African Americans, in particular, consume more television in late night, daytime and primetime on average than all other U.S. homes. We control how, when and where messages are positioned so why would we not want to use this type of power to positively educate minorities? The communications industry is essentially driving the increase of obesity amongst all populations but disproportionately against minorities.

On the other hand, I also know several of my counterparts depend on the obesity-fueling industry of fast food as their life line. In fact, many of the larger multicultural agencies manage diversity accounts for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and the like. However, my agency is ready to take a stand against this revenue-generating, yet fatal industry. We’re ready to stop blaming obesity on the personal choices of one person to the next and say it is our fault for not advocating healthier ways of living to our own people.

We see this not so much as a challenge but an opportunity to rise above common stigmas about minorities involving our overindulgence in junk foods and lack of exercise. Many of us prove this to be untrue in the ways we live our lives, but many still do not know. It is our job to let them know.

Understanding the number of obese minorities will not decrease overnight, it will take a collective effort to make a difference. I challenge each of my fellow marketers to join me as we push the needle on a topic that is affecting each of us in one way or another. I challenge each of them not to abandon their fast-food clients but instead bring a new level of innovation to the marketing of their products and services. I challenge each of them to use the multicultural segment as a means to secure healthier lives for our children and their children.

Join Me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advantage Communications Receives International Recognition for Television Advertising

Television advertising for tobacco prevention and cessation raises the bar in public health communications

Advantage Communications, Inc. – a full service marketing, advertising, and public relations agency based in Little Rock, Arkansas – has received notification by The International Davey Awards that its work in public health communications will be honored by the organization.

The International Davey Awards recognizes the outstanding creative accomplishments of advertising agencies. In its sixth year, The International Davey Awards accepted international nominations and reviewed submissions by a team of creative experts. Advantage Communications, Inc.’s work for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff 15% Set-A-Side Program was recognized from a pool of 4,000 entries.

Stand Off, a creative unit featuring world boxing champion Jermain Taylor, and Stamp It Out, a hip-hop unit featuring hip-hop artist Lil’ Speedie, were awarded in the categories of Healthcare (non-hospital) and Not-for-Profit respectively. Both units were thirty-second television units designed to promote the benefits of tobacco cessation and to encourage minorities to abstain from the use of tobacco products.

“This recognition speaks to the commitment of Advantage Communications, Inc. to produce quality creative that is assertive and encourages behavior change,” stated Michael Steele, President and CEO of Advantage Communications, Inc. We are honored by this recognition and will continue our pursuit of excellence for our clients.”

“The UAPB 15% Set-A-Side has a charge to create a healthier state by sharing the life-saving benefits of tobacco cessation and encouraging minority populations in our state to quit tobacco use, stated Toni McCastle, Media Liaison for the 15% Set-A-Side. “It is outstanding to learn that our message is truly pushing the needle in public health communications and helping us meet our goal.”

Advantage Communications, Inc. is an award-winning advertising agency. With a host of accolades for creative development, project management and executive leadership, Advantage Communications recently received a W3 Award for Website Design for Arkansas Adult Education.

“We appreciate advertising awards, but what really motivates our team is seeing our creative work change behavior and yield results to our clients. This Davey Award is a perfect combination of the two,” commented Steele.

To view the award winning creative referenced in this announcement and additional agency creative units, visit For more information about Advantage Communications, Inc. please contact Olivia Dedner at 501.374.2220.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Local Advertising Agency CEO Appointed to Central Arkansas American Heart Association Board of Directors

Michael Steele accepts invitation to make Central Arkansas healthier community.

Michael Steele, President and CEO of Little Rock advertising agency, Advantage Communications, Inc. (500 Broadway, Suite 402; Little Rock), has recently been appointed to the American Heart Association Central Arkansas Board of Directors.

The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency whose mission statement is: "Building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke." The association's 2020 impact goal is to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. Since 1949, the American Heart Association has grown rapidly in size, financial resources, involvement with medical and non-medical volunteers, and influence - both nationally and internationally.

“I am honored to be appointed as a member of the Central Arkansas American Heart Association Board of Directors,” explained Steele. “Understanding the need to promote a heart-healthy community for Arkansans, I am eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work! I thank the American Heart Association for this opportunity.”

Advantage Communications, Inc. is a full-service, advertising, marketing and public relations agency located in downtown Little Rock. Established in late 2000, Advantage Communications, Inc. has serviced a variety of clients some of which include Verizon Wireless, Central Arkansas Water, Arkansas Adult Education, Stamp Out Smoking, the Department of Workforce Services, the Arkansas Department of Health HIV/STD/Hepatitis C Section, Arkansas Minority Health Commission, and more.

For more information about the American Heart Association or the Central Arkansas Board of Directors, call 501.375.9148 or visit For more information about Advantage Communications, Inc, visit or call 501.374.2220.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Advantage Communications, Inc. Wins International Award Arkansas Adult Education Website Recognized by W3

Advantage Communications, Inc., a local, full service marketing, advertising, and public relations agency, has won a 2010 W3 Award for outstanding work in the education website category for the Arkansas Adult Education website on behalf of the International Academy of Visual Arts (IAVA).

Advantage Communications, Inc. was selected for outstanding quality of work from over 3,000 entries by the top companies, best agencies, and designers worldwide. “We were once again amazed by the high standard of excellence represented throughout the entries we received this year,” said Linda Day, Executive Director of the IAVA.

The Arkansas Adult Education website,, launched in March 2010, and was designed specifically to encourage action among prospective students by utilizing motion, site and sound to speak to the needs of this audience. “Winning an international award speaks volumes about Arkansas Adult Education and where we will be in the near future, “said William “Bill” Walker, Director of Arkansas Department of Career Education. “We are proud to receive recognition for our website, and more so because of what we have provided to our students – and what they in turn can contribute to the state upon completing their education.”

“When we first began to build the Arkansas Adult Education website, I knew we had raised the bar in web development and design to target a very specific audience,” said E’van Steele, Executive Vice President of Advantage Communications, Inc. “Being selected as a W3 Winner is a tremendous achievement and represents our agency’s standard of excellence and relentless service to our clients.”

Advantage Communications, Inc. is the fastest-growing full service marketing, advertising, and public relations agencies, located in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Advantage Communications, Inc. client roster includes Fortune 500 companies, state agencies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, health organizations and for-profit ventures. In addition to the W3 Award, Advantage Communications was recently announced as the winner of two 2010 International Davey Awards for work in the Healthcare (non-hospital) and Not-for-Profit categories.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Foundation for the Mid South to Launch Online Campaign Recognizing Community Do-Gooders

Local Non-Profit Organization Recognizes Outstanding Work Throughout Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi

Thursday, August 19th at 2:00pm at Old State Capitol (100 North Blvd. at River Road – Baton Rouge, LA), the Foundation for the Mid South will launch an innovative program to highlight good deeds in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The program, Foundation for the Mid South Do-Gooders, was established to give Mid-Southerners the voice to decide how to fund and what to fund in up to $300,000 of grants within their communities and states. 

Since 1990, Foundation for the Mid South has worked to improve lives in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. In this time, it has been instrumental in leveraging over $750 million to increase social and economic opportunity in the Mid South. Foundation for the Mid South has provided grants, technical assistance and professional development; incubated new ideas and leadership; and funded research to advance the region. 

“As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we want to highlight the great work that is making a difference in our communities,” explains Dr. Ivye L. Allen, President of Foundation for the Mid South. “Foundation for the Mid South Do-Gooders is our opportunity to recognize those whom are devoted to improving the lives of people in our region.”

Beginning August 17th, Foundation for the Mid South Do-Gooders is an on-line campaign inviting the public to visit a new, interactive website and nominate organizations and individuals, contributing to or supporting great deeds within their communities.  Nominations will be accepted until September 17 and will be categorized by Foundation for the Mid South’s four priority areas: health and wellness, education, wealth building and community development. A complete list of rules can be found at on and after August 17th. 

“The people of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are extremely generous and innovative,” says Chris Crothers, Communications Director of Foundation for the Mid South.   “By launching the Foundation for the Mid South Do-Gooders campaign, we are celebrating this spirit and showcasing those making a real difference in their communities.” 

No good deed is too big or too small to be considered for the Foundation for the Mid South Do-Gooders campaign. For more information, call 601.863.0483 or visit Refreshments will be served directly following the press event. 

About Foundation for the Mid South

The Foundation for the Mid South is a regional foundation dedicated to improving lives by expanding knowledge in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The Foundation seeks to increase opportunity for residents and communities by supporting and strengthening the knowledge and skills of organizations and individuals working to bring about change. The Foundation supports efforts that ensure high-quality education; promote physical and mental health; build financial security; and enable communities to grow and prosper. For more information about the Foundation for the Mid South, visit

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The "Brown" Age

By: Michael Steele, President and CEO 
Advantage Communications, Inc.

It’s no secret that the U.S. minority population has steadily increased over the last several years. Nor is it a surprise that minorities are projected to become the majority by 2042, with the nation projected to be 53 percent minority in 2050, according to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau press release. The real surprise, however, is that the innovative marketing and communications industry has not quite grasped the implications of this forecast. According to an Advertising Age 2009 White Paper entitled, “New U.S. Census to Reveal Major Shift: No More Joe Consumer”, “the message to marketers is clear: No single demographic, or even handful of demographics, neatly defines the nation. There is no such thing as “the American consumer”. 

It is even more important - now than ever - to understand that a new paradigm is upon us and its name is “market segmentation”. As one of the fastest-growing, multi-cultural, advertising, marketing and public relations agencies located in the mid-south, Advantage Communications, Inc. has not only accepted but whole-heartedly embraced this paradigm. Our expertise has been built on our efficiencies to generate buzz, alter attitudes and perceptions and drive consumers to action specifically in diverse markets. This is the environment in which we live and to effectively communicate, we must first understand this new America. 

To this end, here are just a few things we KNOW:

  • The idea that “one message for all” will suffice is no longer the case. Consumers want to feel as though messages are targeted directly to them to satisfy their needs, address their concerns, fill a personal void, or the like. 
  • Minority populations (especially African American, Asian and Hispanic) have a higher propensity to consume messages that are disseminated through targeted outlets or those designed to address the nuances of these cultures. 
  • The use of culturally-relevant images, language and other concepts is well-received among minorities as they are perceived as being “personable”, realistic or easily relatable. 
  • Appealing to cultural nuances, social norms and lifestyle situations is essential in penetrating the inner thoughts and emotions of minority consumers. 
  • Advertising recall is often higher among minorities than their non-minority counterparts when skewed to their cultural nuances. 
  • As it pertains to African Americans, they are more responsive to messages delivered by models and spokesperson that look like them. 

So what exactly is the term “market segmentation”? Although it may not be defined in commonly-utilized reference tools, the concept is simple. Market segmentation is first recognizing the multiple segments within the marketplace and then tailoring messages to fit identified needs.

Make no mistake about it… There are several companies and businesses that do understand the need for targeted marketing and many of their efforts have proven successful. Such large restaurant chains as McDonald’s and Burger King have demonstrated their capabilities to tailor messages to target audiences while also appealing to the general market. According to a November 2009 article in Advertising Age entitled, “Ethnic Insights Form Foundations of McDonald’s Marketing,” McDonald’s marketing strategy is framed by its knowledge of ethnic markets. Neil Golden, CMO of McDonald’s USA, states, “Ethnic segments are leading lifestyle trends.” The article goes on to explain that not only is the ethnic segment a trendsetter, but also largely comprises of McDonald’s total customer base. Approximately 40% of McDonald’s customers are of Hispanic, Asian and African American descent.

Other large corporations, such as The Coca-Cola Company, the company wherein I worked more than 15 years as a marketing executive, has also embraced the idea of market segmentation. With its commitment to providing quality beverage services to all consumers, The Coca-Cola Company understands that in order to encourage consumption of its products, it must spark interest within the consumer. This interest is sparked through the message delivery – hence the need to tailor the message specifically to the audience in which it will be received.

I believe the key to market segmentation is understanding your target audience. We live in a world where trends are here today and gone tomorrow. It is essential to understand the demographics and psychographics of those whom we seek to target. It’s almost impossible to address a need if we do not first know what it is. To this end, I continually encourage my associates of Advantage Communications, Inc. to conduct extensive research on industry trends, competitive advantages, population data, etc. Additionally, we are no strangers to referring to targeted publications such as Diversity, Inc., Target Market News, Multicultural Marketing News and Black Enterprise Magazine for the latest news and trends within our multi-faced marketplace.

In pressing forward to the new era of marketing i.e., “The Brown Age”, I encourage my fellow communications professionals to adapt to their environments. Although efficiently and effectively tapping into diverse markets may seem tedious at surface view, it is a step in the direction toward innovation. And as smart marketers, isn’t this a step we’re ready to take?