The election of Donald Trump killed multicultural marketing. Well, that was the fear the poll results injected into the veins of multicultural marketers.
Not only was the 2016 presidential election a political upset, but as a business owner focused on the multicultural market, the demise of multicultural marketing seemed imminent to me.
My assumption was now that white America had flexed its electoral power, corporate America would flock to the newly awakened political powerhouse: rural whites. Hispanic, African-American, and Asian marketing was now passé, and I just needed to close up shop and call it a day.
As it turns out, I was being overly dramatic, and fortunately, couldn’t have been more wrong.
Multicultural is thriving.
Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed a more intentional effort to ramp up multicultural marketing. It’s gone from a “nice to have” means of pulling in more revenue to a “must have” beacon of hope, giving voice to the underserved and left-out.
Multicultural marketing, once restricted to the cheap seats, has taken center stage and is commanding an influential audience, as Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign has proven.
But it’s not just with social justice ads that we see multicultural coming into the mainstream. It spans multiple business verticals and ethnicities — from Rhianna’s groundbreaking launch of the Fenty Beauty makeup line, which hit $100 million in sales in its first 40 days, to the success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” boasting the first all-Asian cast in 25 years. Even Disney, typically absent from the political fray, unknowingly made a political statement by releasing the culturally rich animated Pixar movie “Coco,” which positively portrayed Latino culture at a time when hateful rhetoric laced newsfeeds and punctuated headlines.
Demographics are not a key driver.
I asked myself how I could have been so wrong.
Demographics isn’t driving this multicultural awakening, unlike years past. In the first golden age of multicultural marketing, brands were spending millions to attract the Hispanic market. Immigration surged in the 1990s. Marketers realized that we’d grossly underestimated the Hispanic population growth, as the 2000 Census projections grossly underestimated the Latino population in the U.S. Caught a day late and a dollar short, marketers scrambled to adjust their messaging and products to address this growing population.
But now, immigration has slowed to a crawl and for some countries like Mexico, we are experiencing net negative migration for the first time U.S. history.
Asian immigration, while rapidly surpassing Hispanic immigration over the past decade, has also slowed due to current immigration policies. The African-American population in the U.S. has been steady, at 13% to 15% of the U.S. population for the past 30 years. So, if demographics aren’t driving the multicultural boon we’ve experienced the past two years, what is?
One word: identity.
Identity makes us who we are.
According to social identity theory, to be a member of a group, one must not only be perceived by others to be part of that group, but more importantly, one must perceive oneself as a group member. Individuals gain a personal sense of their identity within society, based on their group memberships. If post-2016 election America has shown us anything, it is how coalesced our society has become around group memberships. These circles are not just based on who we are, but who we are not.
Ethnic identity is a means of connection.
Brands and companies are now seeing the power of identity — more specifically, ethnic identity — as a means of connecting with the mainstream multicultural consumer in the U.S. While language was once the most common connector among multicultural consumers (namely Spanish for Hispanics), ethnic identity through music, art, and social impact messaging has emerged.
Multicultural consumers have a renewed sense of self and are flocking to circles that share their value system, including brands. They now expect the leaders of those brands to come clean on what they believe in. Consumers vote with their dollars, and multicultural marketers attuned to this paradigm shift will win.
Navigating this new landscape won’t be easy. Multicultural marketers can’t just rely on tried and true tactics like in-language advertising. It’s bigger than that. Understanding the drivers of consumer social identity is the key to authentic relationship building and thriving in this new era of identity marketing.