Commentary

The End Of Multicultural Marketing?

Merriam-Webster defines multicultural: Of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures

In the context of marketing, multicultural is generally accepted as the practice of marketing to one or more audiences of a specific ethnicity (e.g. Hispanic, African American) that is outside of the majority culture or “general market.” I have described it before as “targeted marketing efforts to a specific, clearly defined ethnic group.”

A quick look at Google Trends over the last 10 years for searches of the term “multicultural marketing” in the U.S. paints a picture of a trend I’ve been anecdotally experiencing, with overall downward momentum.

I feel we’re approaching the end of the line for both the term and practice of multicultural marketing. The end of the term is happening quickly, with the end of the practice following closely.

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Why is the term multicultural marketing dying? A couple of important reasons. First and foremost, the term has become highly politicized. As Wikipedia states, “Multiculturalism as a political philosophy (my emphasis) involves ideologies and policies which vary widely. It has been described as a ‘salad bowl’ and as a ‘cultural mosaic — in contrast to a melting pot.” 

It has become a central battleground for the cultural wars in the U.S., pitting multiculturalism vs. assimilation, essentially tainting the word for at least half the country.

Demographic changes are also making the term increasingly obsolete. As immigration continues into the U.S. and the minority populations of Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and other ethnic groups continues growing, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a plurality. The concept of an ethnic minority set against a majority culture seems increasingly irrelevant and dated. The growth of a biracial and mixed-race population and the growing fusion cultural mix that more accurately describes the U.S. in 2019 is completely out of sync with the simplistic ethnic-based segmentation model at the center of multicultural marketing.

It is also becoming antiquated as a business model. Twenty years ago, the term multicultural marketing broadly encompassed the growing industry of marketing focused on reaching Hispanics, African American, and Asians. Over the last 10 years, the African American and Asian components of the industry slowly disappeared — as have many of the specialized ad agencies focusing on those segments — and the term is generally accepted to refer only to Hispanic marketing. In the last five years, the remaining Hispanic and multicultural advertising agencies have rebranded themselves and changed their business models to service more than just ethnic segments. 

Companies with diversity and inclusion (D&I) departments and/or multicultural marketing groups are increasingly out of sync with the realities of the markets they purport to serve. Multicultural marketing has suffered a near-death blow with the introduction of the “Total Market Approach” — a supposed cultural marketing model that many large advertisers adopted. The end of multicultural points to the end of the line of the diversity/multicultural department, the ethnic (or non-ethnic) ad agency, and ethnic segmentation. 

However, endings beget new beginnings, and new departments, ad agency models, and segmentation concepts will need to replace the “multicultural” versions that have existed for the last 20 years. New post-ethnic segmentation schemas are being developed that address cultural fusion, mixed-race population growth and changing immigration trends. New cultural marketing models are already emerging, such as cross-cultural/polycultural marketing. This is an exciting time to be a cultural marketer.

3 comments about "The End Of Multicultural Marketing?".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, May 29, 2019 at 9:16 a.m.

    Jose, what's your take on the notion that the real value proposition of cultural agencies orbits around message creation?  Everything from email and social to ad creative.

  2. Yes, multicultural marketing has evolved over the past years, from a mostly language-based discipline, working in parallel to a brand’s general market efforts to a culture-based one, integrated with general market efforts. But that doesn’t mean multicultural marketing is dead! Actually, we see the exact opposite!


    • We see that multicultural targets are not only growing in population, but they also retain and celebrate their cultural uniqueness.

    • We see that multicultural culture is not exclusively influenced by a mainstream culture in an assimilation process anymore, but rather by mutual influence, meaning multicultural cultures also impact and shape America’s new mainstream.

    • We see clients that left multicultural efforts or adopted the erroneous “one-size-fits-all” Total Market looking for short-term efficiencies are coming back, concerned with their lack of growth and weakening of the brand’s equity.

    • We see technology opening opportunities for reaching and engaging with multicultural segments that were not feasible or cost-effective decades ago.

    • We see measurement results from all mainstream sources confirming the impact of multicultural marketing strategies when it comes to ROI and sales growth.

    • We see a marketplace that is moving from a fragmented approach towards targeting and segmentation, which tends to increase the opportunity for culture being a differentiator for brands and their strategies.

    • We see more multicultural agencies and media companies becoming more capable and more assertive, claiming their right place as a key player in a marketing decision-making, rather than a submissive partner. 


    For all of this and more, we are bullish about the present and the future of multicultural marketing in America!

  3. Michael Reid from Pandora Media, May 29, 2019 at 10:37 p.m.

    Speaking strictly from a digital media standpoint, your conclusions couldn't be more wrong.  The demand for multicultural audiences has been extremely strong and a driver of our overall business.  Engaging consumers and getting them to respond to messaging is a brand's #1 priority.  Our data and experience with multicultural audiences proves that when you speak to them directly with cultural messaging, the ROI tends to outdeliver overall audience metrics.  While Gen Z's identify with multiple ethnic backgrounds, this does not result in a dilution of culture.  In fact, it makes it even more imperative that brands speak to these audiences in relevant ways.  

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