Brands Need a New Way of Thinking

It's time for a more sophisticated, integrated approach to multicultural marketing

It’s a statistical fact that, given the double-digit population growth of Latinos and Asians in the U.S., non-Hispanic whites will almost certainly become a minority population by 2050. And if that’s news to marketers at this late date, it shouldn’t be, says Teneshia Warner. As a consultant who has created diversity-oriented marketing campaigns for the likes of Hennessy, Procter & Gamble, KFC and Disney, Warner has much insight on marketing to the multicultural masses. In her new book, Profit With Purpose (Paramount Publishing), Warner argues that it’s time for a more sophisticated approach to the demographics of color. Stranded in a Florida hotel room as Superstorm Sandy lashed the East Coast last week, Warner spoke with Adweek.

Adweek: Let’s face it: For many brands, “multicultural” marketing tends to be an afterthought.

Yes, you’re right. Marketers before really have taken a simple approach—like translation or putting an African-American person in the commercial. But the diversity conversation is evolving, and it has to evolve so that marketers aren’t thinking about it from an obvious point of view.

What are you suggesting?

Marketing has to evolve into a cultural competency. Brands have to ask themselves, how do these consumers understand their cultural experience? How do they live? What do they value? The big thing is not looking at multicultural marketing as an add-on to the general strategy. It should be thought of within your general marketing.

Can you point to any big brands that have really done that?

When Disney was thinking about how to drive meaningful engagement with multicultural audiences, they developed the Disney Dream Academy. It selects 100 multicultural students from across the U.S.—students who’d probably fall through the cracks otherwise—and provided them with a three-day leadership program to help them align their goals and objectives with real-life experiences. For example, a student who wanted to be a designer got to work with Disney’s costume designers. That program was a perfect example of a brand that brings its purpose to life in a way that connects meaningfully with a multicultural audience.

Much of the do-good marketing I’ve seen takes the form of a tax-deductible donation or a photo op. Progressivism is never going to replace the bottom line, right?

What’ll have brands engaged more and more is when they realize the new consumer expectation is that companies profit in purposeful ways.

Have you worked with a brand that’s profited, as you say, purposefully?

The “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign within P&G got started by African-American women inside P&G who felt like there was a lack of positive images of themselves in mainstream media. The campaign resonated as authentic because it could be mapped back to the employees. Consumers said, “This brand really understands me.” That drives brand loyalty.

How much of what you’re saying is driven by generational change and the kind of broader awareness that social media has given young people?

A large part of it. We’re seeing the tanning of America. Younger consumers, many of whom are multicultural, have more tools to share their ideas, what they stand for and care about—and what they think of your brand. Marketers have to figure out ways to support what those consumers stand for and engage them in their communities. Every brand should challenge itself to have a one-on-one relation with each multicultural consumer. Today, that’s possible.

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