Rethinking Multiculturalism: Beyond ‘Cultural Relevancy’

NEW YORK The power of ethnic audiences is apparent in everyday life. But inherent risks exist when messaging previously meant for a minority group becomes part of the mainstream.

In its fourth year, the just-released Yankelovich Monitor Multicultural Marketing Study points to the impact of the “commercialization of culture,” or repeated use of certain cultural elements to reach broader audiences. In 2004, 37 percent of non-Hispanic whites thought Hispanics were influencing everyone’s lifestyle; today, it’s 44 percent.

The result may mean less authentic messaging for Hispanics and African Americans, the study reports, if the same marketing strategies are used to reach ethnic consumers.

“We’re calling it cultural pinpointing. It’s about understanding that today there’s a lot of borrowing going on from the ethnic marketplace,” said Sonya Suarez-Hammond, vice president of multicultural insights for Yankelovich in Chapel Hill, N.C. “That’s a good thing, and it’s flattering for Hispanics. But it gets to a point that you start taking too much, and when you do that you dilute what is authentic to the Hispanic consumer.”

Latinos surveyed said they want to know that marketers are speaking directly to them, not just capitalizing on the latest crossover trend. That means digging deeper into what makes an authentic marketing campaign for ethnic consumers, who, as in previous years, overindex in terms of welcoming advertising while noting messaging often is not relevant.

Yankelovich collected the largest sample sizes to date, with more than 1,500 African Americans, 1,200 U.S. Hispanics and 1,100 non-Hispanic whites 16+ participating in the study, conducted in March and April 2007.

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