The much touted diversity in advertising—the notion that advertisers have finally awakened to the growth opportunities grounded in the multihued population explosion taking place in the U.S. today— is at best malarkey and at worst a veiled attempt to feign a level of sophistication about reaching and connecting with a diverse consumer base.
Illustration: Max Estes
It’s great that multiculturalism is showing up more on the industry radar. Yet it continues to be confounding that multicultured opportunities remain underleveraged and underfinanced in targeted and total market platforms.
Multicultured audiences are the fastest growing population segments, wielding increasing power and influence and will have a combined buying power of $3.8 trillion by 2017. Given they come to the marketplace with their own needs and desires, their own motivations and beliefs impacting what they want, where they shop and which media they consume and how, it’s perplexing that their perspective is still largely omitted.
That is not to say important elements of multiculturalism are not showing up. Casting more often involves the spectrum of America’s diversity, ensuring no one feels excluded. And tapping into the hottest, most popular tunes/celebrities assures that those who created and drove their popularity will have some level of connection to the messaging as well.
Casting and music were efficient at doing this back in the day as well (today’s celebrity culture had not yet taken hold). That was where multicultural efforts started in the early ’70s and it quickly became evident that the opportunity could not be fully realized, grounded in efficiency alone. It would be necessary to deepen connections with these new communities, which influenced brand-building behavioral shifts.
Deeply rooted, nuanced consumer-based knowledge helped evolve these early efficiency play models. Strategically applied, such insights elevated multicultural efforts—ascribing them with a point of view making them relatable, convincing and memorable.
Fast-forward to now. Casting, music and celebrity decisions in the development of diverse, total market advertising don’t stand alone. These decisions, too, are informed by “insights” providing understanding of mass, representative audiences. Insights at this level are by nature universal—designed to identify intersections of interest, motivations and behaviors across the vast spectrum of diversity in America.
Universal insights make us feel good as part of a larger collective. But they’re most effective when brought down to a nuanced, actionable level touching individuals and compelling them to do something different with brand offerings. That’s why globally, universal insights are adapted and localized to drive market level relevance, application and impact. In the U.S., this localized adaptation for maximum market impact is not happening enough with growth populations (multiculturals). Nor, are insights originating from these populations— increasingly influential against the broader whole—being fully leveraged.
If culturally based, localized structure and insight origination were applied to total market efforts and made proportionate to multicultured population growth, distribution and/or volume contributions, brands would quickly surpass the level of targeted sophistication and realize the growth they seek faster. Brands would be “culturalizing” for forward success.
But in today’s, post-racial, millennial-obsessed world does culture really matter? Absolutely. Not as the definer of one’s identity but as a critical component of what makes “me” uniquely “me.” And, as a route to resonating with and inspiring experiences and consumption shifts with growing audiences, culture is underleveraged.
To win over important growth communities, culture can no longer just be subtext; it must drive total market models. So are you “culturalizing” for future growth and success with the rapidly expanding and shifting multihued audiences critical to growth in the U.S.?
Fail to do so at your own risk.
Esther Franklin (@etwise) is evp, head of Americas experience strategy for Starcom MediaVest Group’s multicultural division.