The Debate Over 'Total Market' And Multicultural Marketing

Last month, a debate broke out online between Jeffrey Bowman of Reframe: The Brand and the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA) over the relevance of total market vs. multicultural marketing.

After posting an article titled “Close the gap: The state of ‘total market’ industry”, AHAA responded with a pointed rebuttal in the comments. Bowman is the founder and principal of a marketing consultancy that grew from an eponymous association he founded for marketers interested in the emerging “Total Market Approach.” AHAA is a Hispanic marketing association made up of Hispanic ad agencies, media companies, and marketing service providers focused on the U.S. Hispanic market.

Bowman’s article makes the argument that multicultural marketing, which he describes as “separate but equal marketing,” is inefficient and ineffective. AHAA argues that multicultural advertising is highly effective, making a broad case for the importance and value of specialists in developing advertising that generates increased ROI. 



This argument is important and one the marketing industry needs to have. I am glad Bowman made his case and AHAA stepped up to provide a counterpoint. For the last five years, the industry has argued these issues mostly at conferences and in private. The future of marketing in the U.S. — and potentially globally — will be affected by how we answer these questions.

While I agree with many of the points made by Bowman and AHAA, I think both sides are missing the fundamental issues.

I agree with Bowman on three key points in his Total Market argument:

  • The advertising industry needs to create new models to serve brands as demographics drastically change.
  • Companies, particularly ad agencies, need to create new value for the brands they support.
  • Brands need to realize their internal decision-makers and employees (who are disproportionately Gen Xers and Boomers) are one to two generations removed from core consumer they are trying to attract, mostly Millennials and Generation Z.

However, Bowman’s arguments are flawed in several ways. He fundamentally misrepresents multicultural marketing as “separate but equal,” failing to understand that, historically, most multicultural marketing programs have been underfunded, receiving only a fraction of the resources devoted to the “general market.”

He also misunderstands the nature of the pushback against the Total Market Approach. It has not been all agencies, but mainly multicultural ad agencies and ethnic / in-language media companies who have the most to lose from consolidation resulting from Total Market strategies. Bowman fails to articulate an alternative to multicultural marketing and does not make much of a case for why a Total Market approach is better.

AHAA also makes some valid points in their rebuttal. Their argument that segmentation is an important and valuable marketing strategy is accurate. They also reference studies showing the value and ROI generated by multicultural marketing programs. However, AHAA and the multicultural marketing industry need to move on from flawed positions that were articulated in the AHAA rebuttal:

  • Acculturation-based segmentation is losing relevancy for most ethnic populations in this country as they are increasingly native born.
  • The focus on Spanish-language media is hurting the industry, as it also becomes less and less relevant to younger multicultural audiences that consume most of their media in English.

The multicultural marketing industry needs to move on from simplistic arguments regarding the value of specialists and be leaders who introduce new models for cultural marketing. If Total Market is not the right approach, and multicultural is increasingly irrelevant, the multicultural “specialists” are the best positioned to introduce innovative models.

3 comments about "The Debate Over 'Total Market' And Multicultural Marketing".
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  1. cara marcano from reporte hispano, March 23, 2017 at 11:54 a.m.

    Spanish-language media is not what is hurting the industry. Too much focus on one media channel - say Univision or SNAPCHAT is a problem in the media mix modeling. IS MULTICULTURAL MARKETING UNDERFUNDED. YES AS AN emerging market strategy it certainly is. The introduction of digital has allowed a lot of bottom-feeding from some folks on digital that is not media that has no place in a media buy including a multicultural media buy. The focus on non-SPANISH IS really a problem in the industry and is not backed up on data. multilingualism is a gift and speaking another language is something that shoudl be celebrated. YOU DONT SHOW LEADERSHIP in our industry by saying we should all only speak ENGLISH all the time. ALSO IT is hard to really understand this argument that millenails and children should be running the entire conversation that all brands only sell to folks under 18 and that a brand really shows leadership by letting 12-yr old girls take pictures of themselves on Snapchat. We really need to look at how brands lead and show aspirational behavior and really build stories around their brands of value.  Independent HISPANIC MEDIA and Spanish are part of this.  It is well documented that more than 80 percent of LATINOS speak Spanish at home. This does not mean they do not Speak English. The research shows that the language is part of the cultural insight, the hispanic media is not just about language - we are also about covering the community from the community's perspective and we have the trust of the community and their buy-in. MANY brands could learn from indepedent HISPANIC-OWNED MEDIA WHICH IS NOT SNAPCHAT OR UNIVISION. LOVE TO KICK THIS AROUND more with soe of you. Cara -

  2. Patrick Harrington from Harrington Zenith, March 23, 2017 at 1:34 p.m.

    Good article Jose. Reality is factually showing us that social, economic, political and yes, demographic variables are pushing these two opposing positions to center stage. Inevitably, both are beginning to coexist together. Given the dynamic nature of the multicultural component, they are likely to have a broader influence in the tactical outcomes that marketers have in their planning process across all marketing disciplines.  

  3. Charles Jamison from Footsteps, March 27, 2017 at 5 p.m.

    Despit the fact that I typically reframe from engaging in these pubilc arguments about Total Market versus multicultural advertising -- as they often times seem to be historically agnostic and completely out-of-touch with what is currently happening to consumers when they are actually making buying decisions --  I will make a few comments for consideration.

    First of all, Total Market Advertising (TMA), even in its correct form, is still just a theory. It is still too young to proclaim it as having proven itself as an across-the-demographic-board model of effective brand communciations. And while multcultural advertising (MCA) is often under-funded and rarely continually supported, it still has a much longer history of successful results to quote. With that being said, any conversation about either TMA or MCA that does not start  and stop with a serious POV about the "cultural" changes occuring in America and how best to appeal to evolving polycultural consumers is not to be taken seriously. 

    For all intents in purposes, the discussion should not be about TMA or MCA,it should be about the evolution of consumer influence on the purchasing decision because of social and digital media, how best to identify and understand the influencers of such and how we should be helping brands become a meaningful and believeable part of the impactful dialogue that consumers are already having without us.

    This understanding coincides with the growing importance of Millennials and the lessening impact of Baby Boomers -- a shift the earmarks the move from thinking about impacting the total market through advertising efforts to highlighting those smaller groups of consumer influencers who are shaping the dialogue of a larger body.

    Influence is what will be most important in the future of brand mangement. The role of  early-adopting Black and Hispanic cultural influencers on the whole market is what we should be talking about because the world of marketing is going to be shifting from talking to everybody to talking with the right somebodies. Our cultures are already making an imopact on this dialogue and while some of us have been saying this for a while, it will soon be recognized and acknowledged by the brands who are shedding their Baby Boomer blinders  to see more clearly the Millennial world. That's what we should be talking about as for most general market agencies, TMA is just old general market wine in new bottles: It looks great but it taste like....

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