Five Wrong Turns in Multicultural Marketing and How to Make Them Right

By Soraya Faber (

When we look around it’s clear, the “emerging” have emerged: 28% of Americans today are non-White, one in four children born in the U.S. today are Hispanic, interracial marriage is on the rise (15% of all marriages in 2011). Yet, even with these undeniable changes in our population makeup, few marketers are keeping pace with appropriate changes to their marketing acumen.

In 2012, too many professionals still fall back on ethnic stereotypes when planning brand strategy and appropriating adequate funds to support multicultural initiatives remains an uphill battle. Frontline decisions on creative and media rely on anecdotes, and old assumptions. We need a reality check that goes beyond ethnic silos so a brand’s overall strategy gets the right start.

To get you started, here are five wrong turns we’ve seen marketers make in the past year—and the five remedies you can take to make sure your efforts haven’t fallen into this trap.

Mistake No. 1: Relying on facts rather than analysis. When it’s time to set marketing strategy, the brand team often consults with its ethnic agency, which lays out relevant facts but then leaves the room. Then the brand team writes the brief, working with its general-market agency to set strategy and budget. The team doesn’t get the cultural analysis and interpretation it needs to effectively benefit planning and budgeting.

Remedy: Demand insights, not facts. If you can’t immediately recognize how to activate information that’s put in front of you, it’s not insightful—it’s just factual. Ask yourself: How does this affect the creative, the budget, the filming and casting, the message, the media buy?

Mistake No. 2: Approaching multicultural marketing as a channel, not a target. Once the general market strategy is set, the brief gets delivered to the ethnic agency—and the digital, promotion, shopper marketing and PR agencies—all of them driven by general-market thinking. The time to influence strategy with real ethnic insights has passed, and the brand ends up with a tactical response rather than a more consumer-focused one.

Remedy: Hold all inter-agency teams accountable for elevating relevant ethnic insights. Every agency has access to Simmons research and Mintel data. With so much information out there, a client should demand that all agencies provide multicultural thinking that applies to their discipline. Require strategy and planning to reflect all consumer groups. It’s smart, and efficient and reflects the value of this information to gaining a whole market perspective.

Mistake No. 3: Focusing on “this spot” vs. “this brand.” Once the train is moving, it’s easy to get so caught up in producing X commercial by X date that marketers lose sight of the broader brand ideas that are being established. Many fall back on casting an ethnically ambiguous family, hoping to hit the widest mark possible … despite the fact that all segments are ready for more realism and diversity in casting.

Remedy: Evaluate your body of work in aggregate. Twice a year, press pause on the “day-to-day” and take a hard look at the year’s marketing activities to determine whether the overall narrative makes sense. Consumers, after all, are in a constant state of evaluating brands and their preferences are developed through an aggregate of inputs. Test the complete body of work, including general market, with your target for relevance and overall brand cohesion.

Mistake No. 4: Relying solely on Spanish-language media to reach the Hispanic market. Brand teams tend to focus heavily on the 61% of Hispanics who regularly watch Spanish-language television without considering the 75% of Hispanics that regularly watch English-language television (Mintel, 2011).  If Spanish-language ads carry a different message than general-market ads, they can backfire, because much of the audience is seeing both.

Remedy: Test brand messaging with a cross-section of Hispanic consumers. If Spanish-language ads carry a unique selling proposition, test them with the audience alongside your English-language ads to ensure the dual messaging is perceived in a positive light.

Mistake No. 5: Prioritizing “general market” consumers to test emerging technologies. Many companies have limited test budgets to invest in marketing innovation, and too often Hispanics live in the periphery of testing strategies (or are de-prioritized as a “next step” upon validation of general market consumers).

Remedy: Consider mobile and social media as testing grounds for Hispanic consumers. It’s a great way to test ideas with leading-edge consumers. Hispanics are early adopters to new technologies—smartphone penetration is 18% higher among Hispanics (Nielson, 2011) than the general market—and their growing influence on the general market makes them a prime target to test emerging platforms.

Soraya Faber is a senior vice president, group account director and multicultural strategist at Tris3ct. She can be reached at


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