What’s fascinating and telling about African American culture is the degree that cultural nuances are influencing the general population. As America continues to diversify, there are many cultures that influence one another but few are more influential than icons of traditionally “African American” culture, especially recording artists, entertainers and athletes. To describe this cultural shift, the term “tanning” has been coined. It is defined as the way that African American culture — specifically hip-hop culture — now influences all ethnicities, not just African Americans.
This cultural phenomenon begs a series of important multicultural marketing questions. If multicultural marketers are targeting a culture that now appeals to mainstream America, are they still using the right messages? Are they choosing the correct campaigns, presented in the appropriate context? Or are they alienating the historical base with messages that don’t exclusively apply anymore?
The key to success in the African American market is to choose your icons and messages wisely. Many have used the power of research to make sure the messages are presented correctly, through placements that have both historical and mainstream appeal. One example is Powerade’s current “Rose from the Concrete” campaign, which combines a mainstream cultural icon (Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls) with a historical hip-hop icon (Tupac Shakur). The campaign is designed to appeal both to the historical African American base and mainstream audiences.
However, generating multicultural and mainstream appeal simultaneously is more than associating with the right icons. In my experience, the key to a successful campaign is to supplement research with real-time data and insights that apply to culture, not just solely race. I presented at SXSW last month about the issue of race in marketing — and while I do contend that it isn’t racist to consider race in marketing, it isn’t only about race. It’s about details and nuances; using data to understand what makes people different. This is especially applicable around tanning, as traditionally African American culture further assimilates into the mainstream.
It would be naïve and irresponsible to define the entire African American population through hip-hop culture, just as it’s culturally insensitive to stereotype Asian and Hispanics in the same fashion. However, hip-hop culture is incredibly influential, having transcended race to the point that it should no longer be fully associated with one ethnicity. Just like rock and roll, blues, jazz, soul and R&B, it marks a broader societal trend of future emulsions, as the African American culture continues to influence non-African Americans, Hispanic and Asian cultures have begun to spread cultural influence on the mainstream as well.
Tanning tells us to leave the stereotypes and misconceptions of the past behind. We need to look at the data and insight, examining the cultural nuances that make individuals unique. We need to look beyond large preconceptions of specific cultures and recognize that as the new mainstream proliferates, our cultures will continue to blend together. This personalized approach should be our greatest marketing challenge and opportunity to date. Are you up to the challenge?