Multicultural Marketing: Addressing The Ever-Growing Opportunity

Tomorrow is Election Day, and if you’ve been following the polls and listening to the pundits, you’re keenly aware of the increasing impact minorities will have on the outcome. Whether it’s the African-American, Asian or Hispanic vote, the power being displayed by these electorates should serve to remind all of us in marketing to pay close attention to the growing clout of these audiences.

Too often, the only nod to diversity in travel marketing is ensuring that different ethnicities are pictured in our materials and websites. While this may accurately reflect the changing face of today’s society, showing these audiences in your marketing doesn’t mean you are effectively talking to them.

To help me better understand this reality, I reached out to Sarah Lattimer, the president of Lattimer Communications in Atlanta. Her firm specializes in African-American marketing, and she has worked on a variety of travel accounts, including Visit Orlando. 



To my surprise, Lattimer stated that African-Americans are largely ignored or under-marketed to by most travel brands, despite the fact that they are an audience of 42 million people and represent 13% of the U.S. population. She also pointed out that they are a very young audience with a median age of 32.5 (versus 41 for whites), and nearly half of all African-Americans are under the age of 30, falling neatly into the Millennial sweet spot increasingly coveted by travel marketers.

Most importantly, African-Americans are expected to have over $1.1 trillion in buying power in 2015 and will spend an estimated $40 billion of that on travel. 

So why aren’t we all paying more attention?

If it makes you feel any better, Lattimer says it’s not just travel that is ignoring the opportunity. It’s estimated that of the $263 billion spent annually on advertising within the U.S., less than 1% targets the African-American segment.

It’s not that no one is trying. About five years ago, American Airlines took a significant step in talking to this market by launching a campaign and website called “Black Atlas,” featuring author and essayist Nelson George as a “Travel Expert at Large.” It seems to have gotten a mixed reception from its intended audience, but managed to survive until the airline’s recent merger. 

In 2012, Marriott made a $5 million investment in marketing to multicultural audiences as part of their “For You, We’re Marriott” campaign that included ads featuring African-Americans. The copy, however, could have just as easily accompanied a person of any ethnicity.

Lattimer said that part of the challenge in marketing to African-Americans is that you need to see and express life through the unique prism of being black, and simply casting black talent isn’t enough. 

Indeed, it’s the shared culture and experiences of African-Americans that truly shapes how they see the world, including their connection to slavery. A Burrell study found that 88% of African-Americans agree that discrimination is still part of their everyday lives. And this link to history isn’t reserved for older generations— 73% of African-Americans ages 16-24 agree that their roots and heritage are more important to them now than five years ago. 

Lattimer has found that African-Americans often don’t feel respected, valued and welcomed and she sees this as a huge opportunity for our industry to deliver. After all, who better than the travel industry to show this audience a warm welcome, friendly service and the true meaning of hospitality? 

The deep connections African-Americans have with religion, history, music, art, theater and food are all well suited to the delivery of memorable experiences, and this target wants the status and bragging rights that come with unique and unforgettable moments they can share with friends and family.

The fact is, blacks act differently among blacks than with whites, and this “Living Black” reality is one that Lattimer says most marketers don’t understand and have yet to leverage. She feels African-Americans are really bicultural—living their lives in a manner that straddles their own culture and that of “mainstream society.”

Lattimer also feels the current trends in multicultural marketing that stress the blurring of color lines in the U.S. fail to engage. When talking to affluent blacks, for instance, she points to the importance of style and image, yet she stresses that any celebration of their economic success needs to be done in a way that embraces African-American culture. As she quickly reminded me, they are black first and affluent second.

When I asked Lattimer to give me an example of a marketing message that does resonate with African-Americans, she was quick to point to the recent “Made of More” campaign launched by Guinness. While not a travel ad, “The Men Inside the Suits” spot features the “Sapeurs” from the Republic of Congo and authentically celebrates their boundless spirit, positive attitude toward life and sartorial splendor in a way that demonstrates how a brand can become part of a culture in a positive, unique and unassuming way.

To further underscore the importance of reaching these multicultural audiences, the Pew Research Center forecasts that by 2060 the U.S. population will be 45% African-American and Hispanic, and only 43% white.

We might be 24 hours away from election results, but I can already predict the winners in travel. It’s those brands that make a significant focus on marketing to multicultural audiences.

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