Why The Future of Advertising Is Cross-Cultural

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.

4 comments about "Why The Future of Advertising Is Cross-Cultural".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. ARTURO NAVA from Logra Tu Dream, February 7, 2014 at 2:31 p.m.

    Great article Jose !, totally agree with your point of view. Cross cultural marketing reflects the reality of our society in which the ethnic minorities are having a profound influence in America which has already changed the mainstream.

  2. Aldo Quevedo from LERMA/, February 10, 2014 at 5:29 p.m.

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Jose. You raise some excellent points! To that end, AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing is currently collaborating with various ethnic and general market marketing associations to seek alignment on a Total Market definition and criteria, both from an agency and client perspective. AHAA’s TM Benchmark surveylast Fall sheds light on the confusion perceived in the marketplace. Our preliminary findings reveal there are multiple definitions and a variety of approaches, but a few elements remain true: All agree that a “total market strategy” should be inclusive of White Non-Multicultural, Hispanic, African American, Asian American and LGBT. It needs to be reflective of the multicultural impact on America’s new mainstream culture with cultural cues across multiple ethnicities and diverse talent, while also drawing upon universal truths that can span across segments. We hope to unveil an industry definition for 'total market' with best practices to demonstrate the most effective way of executing it at our annual conference in Miami this April. We hope you will form part of the conversation – your input is extremely valuable to us!

    Aldo Quevedo
    Chair of AHAA

  3. Jose Villa from Sensis, February 11, 2014 at 9 a.m.

    Aldo - thanks for contributing to the conversation. I am happy to hear that AHAA is bringing their POV to the discussion and I look forward to hearing what comes out leading up to and during the AHAA conference in April. That being said, I don't think Total Market is the end-all, be-all approach (in fact, as my article states, I feel that cross-cultural is the model of the future). I'd like to hear more about cross-cultural vis-a-vis Total Market at the AHAA conference.

  4. Havi Goffan from Target Latino, February 23, 2014 at 1:31 p.m.

    Dear Jose, I posted this reply on the MME group on LinkedIn but it has been on a Pending queue for 2+ days so I'll share as I wrote to to Michael Hong over there. Love your articles! Havi.
    Thanks for sharing, Michael! Also, I always love Jose's articles. Read them every time I can. This time, even though I enjoyed reading every word of it and I love the way in which it inspires me to think, I would like to digress a bit with the definition of cross-cultural. To me, the so-called "general market" is another ethnia. True, it can be segmented, but so can the Hispanic market and by country of origin, if you'd like. Thus, there is no ethnic market to leverage but it is truly about finding the elements that resonate across all of the cultures (something extremely difficult as you have to have a very knowledgeable team in all of them) Alas, you can always go across a couple of cultures and only target those with the same message and still be cross-cultural marketing or target each one separately with an individually crafted message that speaks to each keeping the essence of what the brand wants to communicate (multicultural, how do I love thee) In sum, to me the difference lies in the number of messages you need to craft to reach the target market and not necessarily leveraging one vs the other as they all get leveraged or the message fails. Greatest example: the Got Milk Campaign with Salma Hayek ended up being even more successful with soccer moms than anybody else. It started as a concept, not in one ethnia but thinking of a mom and what she would do if she run out of milk. Could continue sharing but would love to hear all of your thoughts. Havi

Next story loading loading..