Cover image for Shopping for identity : the marketing of ethnicity
Shopping for identity : the marketing of ethnicity
Halter, Marilyn.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Schocken Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 244 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E184.A1 H214 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In America today, you can connect to your ethnic heritage in dozens of ways, or adopt an identity just for an evening. Our society is not a melting pot but a salad bar--a bazaar in which the purveyors of goods and services spend close to $2 billion a year marketing the foods, clothing, objects, vacations, and events that help people express their (and others') ethnic identities. This is a huge business, whose target groups are the "hyphenated Americans"--in other words, all of us. As immigrant groups gain economic security, they tend to reinforce--not relinquish--their ethnic identification. Marilyn Halter demonstrates that, to a great extent, they do it by shopping. And their purchasing power is enormous. How has the marketplace responded to this hunger? Instantly and wholeheartedly: tweaking old products and inventing new ones; launching new brands in supermarkets, new music groups, vacation itineraries, language courses, toys, greeting cards, et cetera. This nexus of business and ethnicity is already seen as the hottest consumer development of this decade, and Halter is uniquely qualified to describe its origins, the exponential growth of products and advertising, and the phenomenal sales of items from salsa to Chieftains CDs. She addresses her subject with an abundance of anecdotal evidence, telling examples of ethnic marketing, and interviews with entrepreneurs (many of them immigrants) who are vigorously seizing the opportunities offered by the business of ethnicity. Shopping for Identity is provocative, intriguing, and farseeing, illuminating an important aspect of our contemporary way of life while validating the yearning we all feel for connection to our roots.

Author Notes

Marilyn Halter is an associate professor of history and a research associate at the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University. She is the author of Between Race and Ethnicity and New Migrants in the Marketplace.

She lives in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Black Barbies, a Northwest Orient advertisement urging Irish-Americans to fly to Dublin to "find their roots" and a Tetley Tea campaign suggesting that American Jews "think Yiddish" but "drink British" are only recent examples of advertisers' attempts over the last century to target consumers by appealing to their sense of ethnic and racial identity. In this highly engaging study, Halter (an associate professor of history at Boston University) traces the complicated history of ethnicity and consumption in the U.S. While the "melting pot" paradigm has been accepted with very little critique, Halter argues that such wholesale assimilation has never really occurred. She posits instead that individuals and groups have always tried to become Americans without losing the specificity of their ethnicityÄa reality that is reflected in the marketing of consumer goods. While she focuses on how Alex Haley's Roots (1973) and the 1974 congressional Ethnic Heritage Act (which funded "initiatives that promote... distinctive cultures and histories") spurred the embrace of ethnic identity, Halter also documents that embrace in such fascinating occurrences as an 1895 article, "The Negro in Advertising," which ran in the advertising journal Printer's Ink, and a 1913 Proctor and Gamble campaign for kosher Crisco shortening that began: "The Hebrew Race Has Been Waiting 4,000 Years." Halter deftly conveys the sweep of her findings without ever glossing over her intriguing examples. Her refreshingly radical examination of U.S. history is an important addition to both cultural and ethnic studies. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Halter (professor of history and research associate at the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture, Boston Univ.), offers valuable insight into the purchasing habits--and growing purchasing power--of America's numerous cultural groups. Addressing the topic of multicultural marketing (or ethnic marketing, as it is often called) from a historical perspective, she describes the changes that have occurred in the past century and currently developing trends. With the continuing rise in the number of immigrants to the US and the increased interest in expressing one's cultural identity, the demand for segmented marketing strategies that target ethnic consumers has grown. Major companies, such as Hallmark, Wrigley, Cover Girl, Mattel, J.C. Penney, Pepsi, and American Express, are all looking for ways to reach Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and other key markets. Halter notes that Beech-Nut now has over 80 different kosher baby foods, Estee Lauder's Pescriptives All Skins brand comes in 115 different foundation shades, and salsa outsells ketchup. Filled with anecdotes, notes, and bibliographic sources, this book is recommended for marketing students, faculty, and professionals. P. G. Kishel; Cypress College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
1 Longings and Belongings: An Introductionp. 3
2 From Community to Commodity: The Color of Moneyp. 25
3 The New Ethnic Marketing Expertsp. 48
4 The Romance of Ethnicityp. 78
5 Ethnic by Design: Marketing to a "New America"p. 104
6 A Rainbow Coalition of Consumersp. 138
7 Recipe for Multiethnicity: The Mestizo Makeoverp. 170
Conclusionp. 192
Appendix A Note on Terminologyp. 199
Notesp. 203
Bibliographyp. 216
Indexp. 226
Illustration Creditsp. 243