retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Although the United States grows increasingly diverse almost daily, many of us may find that reality easy to ignore. I spend very little time watching BET or Univision on cable and the music choices on my I-Pod mostly reflect the world in which I grew up, which means rock, not rap.

I even manage to avoid an incredibly easy visit to the diverse world every morning in my daily newspaper. Simply looking at the comics page these days gives you a sense of America in 2010. There are comics geared to young kids, pre-teens and teen-agers; parents of those different aged kids; grandparents, working people and even those of us with strange sense of humor who love Pearls Before Swine. There’s something else too: comics geared at racial and ethnic groups including African-Americans and Hispanics.

Now it’s possible that Hispanics love the strip Baldo, but try as I might, I never get it. The problem isn’t language, as I know enough Spanish to understand when it switches out of English. Rather, I simply don’t get the references or jokes, so I pass it by.

That is until this past week. Both my daughter and I noticed a strange tone in the drawings that compelled us to follow the story arc. In reading it, we became aware of how different communities confront different problems.

The story line itself was simple. The elderly family aunt was approached by a woman outside a supermarket who had a problem. The stranger had a winning lottery ticket, but couldn’t cash it because she was an illegal immigrant. So she offered the aunt a deal to split the money if the aunt would give her a check first in good faith.

Stunned by this turn of good fortune, the aunt offers up $5,000 and is prepared to take the woman and a friend to her bank. Just then, her nephew shows up and rescues her from the scam. The comic strip finished with anything but a joke, instead offering a reminder for readers to visit the website of the National Council of La Raza (the nation’s leading Hispanic organization) for help on financial issues.

Now here’s hoping that most of us already know it’s a bad idea to respond to e mails from Nigerian princes with large, yet untouchable, bank accounts or to ever consider a deal like the one proposed in Baldo. Yet somehow those scams go on and somehow they keep snagging the unsuspecting among us.

While I may not “get” Baldo, I have to believe there are many struggling Americans who would see a proposal like the one in the strip as stunning windfall, especially in tough economic times. It’s possible that the problem is worse than we can believe among non-acculturated immigrants.

That makes you wonder what else people don’t know and in the process, what opportunities exist for companies to build loyalty by building knowledge among customers. For instance, how many shoppers look at the new self-scanners and live in fear of the day they might have to use those things? How many have no clue that meats need cooking to a specific temperature to kill bacteria? How many have no knowledge about a trans fat, an anti-oxidant or a pro-biotic?

Or how many have no idea that giving money to someone promising free access to a lottery ticket or a bank account is a really bad idea?

And that has to make you wonder how can we help make them smarter, make them more aware and in the process, make them better customers.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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