Blowing Up Silos

By David R. Morse – President & CEO / New American Dimensions (from

Blowing up multicultural silos seems to be the esprit du temps, or at least the theme of the last ANA Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference. Leverage your common multicultural insights across different consumer groups. Realize economies of scale. Develop marketing communications that appeal to multiple multicultural segments at the same time. Reflect in your organization the new mainstream and the demise of the so-called “general market.”

It would seem as if the future of marketing is clear. The days of targeted multicultural marketing are over. Multicultural and general market agencies need to come together and develop coordinated strategies. Brand managers need to be held accountable for increasing revenue and margins from multicultural dollars.
Has the marketing zeitgeist finally and permanently evolved to reflect a New America or are we simply witnessing the rebounding of the pendulum swing? Is there really such a thing as a multicultural insight that crosses ethnicities? Can companies effectively organize, strategize and activate to effectively reach a seemingly diverse group of people?

In terms of company organization, many of us have seen the multicultural marketing pendulum swing before. Multicultural teams are integrated into the brand. Soon, however, multicultural gets ignored or it is misunderstood. Then there is a regime change that decides in favor of a designated team to make sure that multicultural is given the attention it deserves. They take it out of the brand and build a multicultural team. You can get dizzy as an observer of this game.

Corporate musical chairs aside, a (let me call it) trans-cultural approach to marketing makes great sense. It is not just rhetoric to say that the demographic and cultural landscape of America is changing in a way that has not occurred since the turn of the twentieth century. And today’s youth, fully equipped with hip-hop sensibilities, are crossing cultural boundaries and forging a new culture that clearly transcends race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation.

Marketing needs to reflect the cross-cultural sensibilities of a new America. And some companies have nailed it. Take the oft-used example of McDonald’s –they lead with multicultural insights with a careful eye on the mainstream. PepsiCo nailed it with its Sofía Vergara and David Beckham campaign. And let’s not forget Chrysler’s edgy, urban ads. Or the first mention at every focus group I’ve attended in a long time when the moderator asks about cool ads: the Old Spice guy. All have managed to touch a multicultural nerve while targeting what used to be called the general market.

But what about Hispanic and Asian immigrants? In many cases, these groups still respond to old-school multicultural marketing. In-language, in-culture. Marketing that speaks to their unique sensibilities. And one could argue that their kids, mostly second generation and just one generation removed from immigration, might have a sweet spot just waiting to be touched with a marketing message that recognizes them and their families, and not some amorphous multicultural American.

My point is not that integration is off the mark. Companies need to recognize the new American dynamics and organize accordingly. They need to look for economies of scale. They need to get their advertising agencies talking to each other. And brand managers need to “get it;” they need to be held accountable for bringing in those coveted multicultural dollars.

However, an increasingly multicultural marketplace brings with it complexity and nuance; there is no panacea for reaching diverse consumer segments. Multicultural may be the new general market, but targeted multicultural marketing is far from being dead. It correctly assumes that we do not all respond to communications in the same way. And it is built on the premise that cultural and linguistic pride is powerful. Tear down the silos, yes, but let’s not forget that diversity implicitly implies differences.


Categories: NGLC Conference

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