The last year has been filled with talk about the virtues and the issues with the concept of total market advertising. In my last article, I posited that there are essentially three different models for multicultural marketing. Although the terms are being used interchangeably, the result is a great deal of confusion in the multicultural marketing world.
This evolving lexicon has made its way into the agency side of the business. More and more Hispanic, African-American and Asian advertising agencies are adopting monikers like “cross-cultural agency” to describe themselves and have gone out of their way to label new ethnic assignments as “total market” AOR assignments.
Coca-Cola’s touching and diverse “America is Beautiful” Super Bowl ad, which sparked online political controversy, also provided a high-profile example of the debate occurring in ad land regarding these different marketing models. Many ad industry folks touted the ad as a great example of the total market approach in action. I, however, see it as an example of what we see as the future of advertising – cross-cultural marketing.
Cross-Cultural Marketing – one marketing program that leverages ethnic markets to reach across ethnic and general markets
The difference between cross-cultural and total market approach advertising is subtle, but important. Cross-cultural marketing starts with ethnic segments to develop marketing programs that cross overinto the general market. Total market, by contrast, starts with the general market and layers in (or more often than not adapts) ethnic elements, usually talent. A “total market” ad is meant to run on large, general market platforms, like network TV, in English. Cross-cultural ads, by contrast can run on mainstream and ethnic media.
Let’s go back to the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad. This ad could have just as easily run on Univision, LA18 or BET as Fox’s broadcast of the Super Bowl. Creating advertising that crosses over like that is about more than just language. The magic of cross-cultural marketing is part process and part perspective.
Process is about starting with ethnic segments versus “general market.” This sounds simple and almost trivial, but it’s neither. The vast majority of advertising developed in this country, even in 2014, is done from a general market-first perspective. This is a result of who drives these decisions at the highest levels at large brands and advertising agencies. All the talk about “total market” is being driven by multicultural marketing leaders and ethnic agencies, not CMOs and large mainstream ad agency creative executives.
Perspective is about deeply understanding and leveraging ethnic consumers. This is more difficult. Perspective comes from working in the trenches, from deeply understanding Hispanic, African-American, Asian and other ethnic consumers. Many times it comes from being an ethnic consumer yourself. As with the point about process, this lack of perspective is a structural issue in Madison Avenue. This is where multicultural marketers shine.
Coca Cola was not the first advertiser to either intentionally or accidentally move into the realm of cross-cultural advertising. However, the response the ad got is indicative of the fact that it hit a nerve with Americans who realize (either with fear or excitement) that this is a changing country. Advertising has historically been out in front of these big societal cultural changes.
Why do I feel that cross-cultural marketing is the model of the future? It’s simply demographics. Most people understand that this country is on a straight line path towards becoming a minority-majority nation. The majority of babies being born during this young century – meaning the 18-to-24 year olds of 2020 – are not white. The only question is how much immigration will mix with this native-born non-white population.
More importantly, they are going to come of age in a very different society than my immigrant parents or even I did. I can’t predict the future, but I see a new marketplace and advertising world that will be more cross-cultural than we can ever imagine. We will inevitably look back in less than 10 years at today’s multicultural marketing as awkward and irrelevant.