Productivity: A Cablinasian Media Future

  • by August 24, 2006
What's the one thing all Americans have in common? Difference. Everywhere you look in America today, you see a kaleidoscope of difference and diversity. Media must adapt to reflect this rapid and pervasive evolution in everything from lifestyle choices to racial makeup to pop culture.

Just look at household structure. The 2000 census found for the first time in history that the traditional American family  a married couple with kids under 18 living at home  comprises less than 25 percent of U.S. households. Single-parent households  characterized by more difference, almost by definition  will soon be the majority. Contrast that with the 1950s, when married couples made up more than four in five households.

Or look at race and ethnicity. Minority groups grew 43 percent between 1990 and 2000. By 2030, minorities will be 39.9 percent of the U.S. population. After 2040, more whites will die each year than are born. By 2050, whites will no longer be the majority population. They'll be another minority group, just like everyone else.

Hispanics are the largest minority group today, growing more than four times the rate for the population as a whole between 2000 and 2003. By 2050, the Hispanic population in the United States will be second only to Mexico. And among themselves Hispanics claim a highly diverse mix of nationalities, cultures, and races. In the last census, 42 percent of Hispanics didn't even check a box for race because they did not see an appropriate category listed. As Hispanics grow, they will make difference an even more pronounced feature of life.

The culture reflects these changes in lifestyle and identity. Pop music genres keep proliferating, dividing, and reprising old styles. Musicians sample and fuse funk and punk, country and rap, hip-hop and electro-pop. Fusion foods show up on every menu. Miss America contestants sport piercings and tattoos. Long hair, short hair, shaved heads, Mohawks, bald heads, buzzcuts, dreadlocks, mop-tops, ponytails, do-rags, headscarves, and beehives can often be found in the same office, classroom, or mall on any given day. Everything ever written, filmed, recorded, or produced can be almost instantaneously accessed online or on TV.

The result: a staggering diversity of styles, forms, fashions, and lifestyles. Tiger Woods best characterized this new world when he appeared on "Oprah" after he won the Masters in 1997. When Oprah asked him about his ethnicity, he answered, "Cablinasian," summing up in one word his mixed heritage of Caucasian, black, American Indian, and Asian races. Diversity today means exactly this kind of blending of everything with everything else to produce a cornucopia of fresh, new, and often unexpected results.

Cablinasian diversity is the new face of celebrity  not just Tiger but Greg Louganis, Derek Jeter, Halle Berry, Vin Diesel, Lisa Bonet, Jessica Alba, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Benjamin Bratt, Lenny Kravitz, Nia Peeples, Mariah Carey, and Cameron Diaz, to mention but a few.

This trend isn't confined to celebrities: One in 16 people under the age of 18 is multiracial. More than 25 colleges have multiracial student organizations. In 2003, the Sunday supplement Parade featured multiracial kids in its cover story, "The Changing Faces of America."

The world to come will unabashedly blur and redefine boundaries. In every aspect of life, from households to race to music and more, the future is Cablinasian.

The proliferation of media technologies is not splintering the consumer audience. In fact, it's not even clear that media are evolving fast enough to keep up with the explosion of difference in the marketplace. What is clear is that media, and marketing more generally, will not be able to exert the same kind of control in the future as in the past. This new diversity is in constant motion. Difference begets more difference. New styles age faster, and the fringes grow ever further apart. The middle market has lost any ability to unite people around a common aspiration.

Media operational and planning systems can never hope to manage delivery to an ever-increasing diversity of consumers. The only way to succeed in this marketplace is to relinquish control to consumers so that they can create their own meaningful experiences. The future is not about new media. It's about a new approach to media in a Cablinasian world.

J. Walker Smith is president of Yankelovich, Inc. and the coauthor of three critically acclaimed books, including Coming to Concurrence: Addressable Attitudes and the New Model for Marketing Productivity (2005)

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