Gen Z is the first segment to be an American multicultural majority with teens 17 and under—with other segments soon to follow, under 35s by 2028 and all persons under 50 by 2033. And that demands a shift in the way we think about and practice marketing.
Considering that nine of 10 chief executives and advertising, promotions, sales & marketing managers are non-Hispanic white, the first marketing hurdle is getting caught up in a mono-cultural feedback loop. It is imperative to develop cultural literacy and empathy to face America’s multicultural majority—or face potential brand implosions with Gen Z and their parents.
When Gen Zers and many of their parents see brands acting in a way that doesn’t align with their values or that is culturally disrespectful, they walk away and often spread the word. A new study by the Cultural Marketing Council: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing (CMC) revealed that more than half of people ages 13 to 49 have quit a culturally illiterate brand, saying it “offended them or disrespected their values.”
That number skyrocketed to 72% among Black female parents. But the number-one reason Gen Zers and Hispanic and Black parents have quit a brand is disrespect for “their own or someone else’s” racial or ethnic group, even ranking third among non-Hispanic white (NHW) parents. Nearly a third of teens will quit a brand if it disrespects and offends the LGBTQ+ community, compared to only 15% of their parents. Other issues for breakups include animal cruelty and marketing adjacent to offensive content.
That’s right, consumers hold brands accountable for who they associate with. For 30% of Gen Zers & parents that have quit a brand, culturally acceptable advertising adjacent to offending content was a brand break-up reason. Now, some teens will continue to use a brand they love, even if it has done something offensive, but social media status is the trump card. Social media backlash can be what makes them cancel a brand because “they do not want to be seen with the brand” anymore.
But here’s the good news: brands can take calculated risks if they know both their brand’s and consumers’ cultural values. For example, when Nike used Colin Kaepernick in their ads, that was a calculated risk based on knowing that their customers value “freedom of speech/right to protest” over patriotic symbols. Sales did not suffer. When Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods took steps to address gun violence by tightening their restrictions and removing some types of firearms and ammunition from their stories, they saw no ultimate negative bottom-line impact.
In fact, in CMC’s study, 67% of multicultural people ages 13 to 49 and 53% of NHW said they were more likely to shop in these stores after this move. Gen Z and their parents tend to reward brands that prove they are supportive of issues and movements that matter to them, such as hate, racism and gun violence, among others.
That’s why marketers must focus on cultural literacy and aligning their brand values with their customers--the multicultural majority and NHWs-- to capture market share among Gen Zers. With culture at the heart of many purchase decisions and brand pitfalls, it is long overdue to invest in cultural specialists for marketing teams to both protect and optimize brands for mainstream and segmented marketing efforts alike.
It is time to do away with NHW-dominant marketing practices often shrouded in terms like “general market” or “total market.” We must puncture culture bubbles and embrace a new and powerful multicultural majority—the true cultural diversity of America. After all, Hispanics and other multicultural segments have the power of the pocketbook.