The “Total Market” Approach

By David Morse (New American Dimensions)

When I walked away from the ANA multicultural conference on Wednesday I felt high. No, I wasn’t smoking anything. I was high on what several presenters called the “Kool-Aid” of the “total market.”

In an industry marred by the language wars in the past decade — the bitter debate over English versus Spanish — it was refreshing to witness multicultural marketers achieve such consensus. I remember publishing results of a survey in 2002 that found Hispanic teens preferring English and getting a call from Univision expressing “extreme displeasure.”  I remember the theme of the Association of Hispanic Adverting Agencies conference in 2007: “Is Hispanic advertising dead?”  I remember watching many African American advertising agencies falter as marketers asked themselves the question: “Well, African Americans speak English, don’t they?”

I’m thrilled to see we have come so far.  “Embedding a multicultural perspective into all of our efforts is not a choice,” declared Gilbert Dávila, the event’s chairperson. “It’s a necessity. It’s time for us to embrace a total market approach, while still targeting individual demographics. In this plan, everyone is included. Everyone is represented. Every single time.”

The agreement of Corporate America’s senior executives seems to give testament that the days of fighting over table scraps for corporate dollars — despite our country’s demographic revolution — are over. “We are not in Kansas anymore, and the general market doesn’t look the same,” said Marelena Peleo-Lazar, Chief Creative Officer of McDonald’s. Many echoed her sentiments. Lauventria Robinson, Vice President of Multicultural Marketing at Coca-Cola affirmed,  “Marketing 101 means Total Market,”  Tony Rogers, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Advertising at Walmart, agreed, “The whole idea of total market implies that you are just a marketer,” he said, adding,  “Don’t let yourself be defined as ‘I am a Hispanic marketer’, or ‘I am an African American marketer.'” (Thank you, Chiqui Cartagena, for taking such good notes. Read her great piece in Ad Age).

A research study sponsored by AHAA, presented by Carlos Santiago, CEO of Santiago Solutions Group, affirmed that this is not just the stuff of visionaries; already more than half of advertisers have some version of a total market strategy.
It would appear that despite our battle scars — and I have many– the fight to give a voice to multicultural consumers has been won. Or has it?  My question is not whether Corporate America is ready for a total market approach. It is rather, “How ready is consumer America?”

I’m referring to the social media outcry when General Mills launched its brilliant and touching ad featuring a biracial couple. I’m thinking about the reaction when Nina Davuluri, an Indian-American, won this year’s Miss America competition. An “Arab,” she was called, a “terrorist,” “Miss 7-11” and a “nice slap in the face to the people of 9-11.”  I’m concerned about a study by professors at Stanford, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, which found 50.9% of American voters expressed “explicitly anti-black attitudes.”  I wonder about a New York Times poll, which discovered a third of Americans feel that so-called illegal immigrants should be required to leave their jobs and the United States. I worry about the House of Representative’s current attempts to block legislation outlawing workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Despite my fear of oversimplifying, in many ways, we Americans live in two different worlds:  one occupied by so many whites and the other occupied by over one hundred million gays and people of color. Take the recent charges of racial profiling brought against Barney’s and Macy’s. If the allegations are accurate, Trayon Christian, a nineteen year old mechanical engineering student, and Kayla Phillips, a twenty-one year old woman from Brooklyn, were harassed by police: simply for being black.

Still, I am hopeful.  For the first time in my multicultural marketing career of about fifteen years, it seems that the marketing community has collectively gotten it right.  It acknowledges the siloed approach to marketing didn’t work. It recognizes that multicultural marketers need to have a seat at the table.  And it appears that the well-worn argument that the general market is now multicultural has more than its share of converts.

Most importantly, I am affirming that we as multicultural marketers, have an unprecedented opportunity — indeed, responsibility — to allow the voices of the “new” America to be heard.

Who else but we is better equipped to ensure that racial, ethnic and sexual orientation be brought to the center of awareness and not swept under the rug?  Who else can better proclaim the common values and vision of so many Americans who have been ignored in the past?

As Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc Media, quipped during the conference, and I paraphrase: “I love the countless blunders made by corporate America; it’s what keeps me in business.” Well, let’s put Luke out of business. Or better yet, let’s give him some more success stories to write about. Let us ensure that our clients get it right at every turn. We owe it to them. And we owe it to the millions of multicultural consumers, whom we represent.

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Categories: NGL News

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