The Pendulum Swings: The Rise of Mainstream Cultural Efforts, Trans-cultural Proficiency, Multicultural Business Units and Spend
By Liz Castells-Heard, CEO & Chief Strategy Officer, INFUSION
2020 ends the ‘General market era’ glorified by Madison Ave. where my career started, and Minority-Majority is officially an oxymoron. The states driving our economy are already majority-Multicultural, Gen Z will be in 2020, Millennials by 2025, Gen X before 2030, the U.S. by 2040. Over half of all USA HHs today are Multicultural or mixed races, over half of Hispanics under age 29, over half of Blacks grew up as digital natives, and Asians are the most affluent and educated of any racial group with $110K average HH income. The Census will only reinforce the urgency of revisioning these high value super-consumers who will account for $4.2T buying power next year and all future growth, while Non-Hispanic-Whites decline at an accelerated rate as deaths exceed births, putting brands that don’t do proper Multicultural marketing at risk.
Multicultural marketing spend, currently at $27B or 6% of ad spend vs. 40% of population, will increase to $30B with more investment, cyclical events (political, FIFA, Olympics) and doubling of English-cultural efforts given MCM represents a majority or sizable share of English viewership and even Hispanics watch over 55% of their content in English – but inexplicably, spend will remain below 10% of ad spend, underscoring marketers’ lack of maximizing their brand growth. However, it’s moving in the right direction – and will rise at an increasingly rapid rate over the next five years.
There will an acceleration in Multicultural focus in content whether from cable or OTT, consumer research whether from Nielsen, Horowitz, Mintel, LatinoEyes, CultureBeat or Gauge, ethnic dimensions are identified across all digital/video and gaming platforms. In parallel, as Fortune 500 senior marketers realize their growth is Multicultural, General Market and Ethnic agencies will increasingly battle for the same accounts. The former will have to step up their cultural intelligence and staffing significantly as clients demand more depth of understanding and representation. Meanwhile, ethnic agencies will better position their cultural marketing leadership because it’s our wheelhouse and innate strength to know the GM and MCM segment differences and commonalities, plus our inherent nimbler, more committed and cost-effective standards.
I have a ‘pendulum’ theory that applies to even Multicultural marketing, of paradigms going to extremes before self-correcting in the middle. It is neither about the obsolete ‘siloed’ in-language models in the ethnic womb, nor blended ‘vanilla’ TMA approaches eroding effectiveness and growth. Revitalized Multicultural COE experts will proliferate – with deep segment understanding, sales growth and P&L accountability, and cross-functional team synchronicity. This will follow a pattern set by MCM leaders like McDonald’s, Toyota and P&G, and more recently by Pepsi who added a U.S. Hispanic Business Unit.
D&I will be 100% table stakes, and inclusivity unequivocally benefits the workplace, providing equitable opportunities, different perspectives that lead to better problem-solving and innovation consumer transparency, a truer reflection of the communities served, and Multicultural voices at decision-making levels and as suppliers and partners. However, D&I is housed in HR – and does not replace a multicultural marketing business growth imperative nor linked to the larger priority of quantifying the value of Multicultural targets, and business strategy, metrics, product, offer and customer journey strategies to maximize performance against these targets. Then, and only then, does the right marcomm approach and cultural framework matter, which will assuredly have cultural fluency and the proper combination of unique, cross-cultural and/or universal efforts will logically materialize. These complementary efforts are defined below:
- Unique custom efforts grounded in segment needs and insights in any language.
- Cross-cultural efforts which apply MCM cultural insights in a context that appeals across cultures in English, aka Bicultural, Polycultural, Intercultural or Trans-culturationTM (our word).
- Universal efforts which apply cultural fluency, context and situations to GM concepts
But one thing’s for sure, it is not about blending. Most Multiculturals self-identify as hybrid-Americans and want to belong to ‘their’ ethnic community. 69% of Hispanics and AA ’feel and act differently than their American friends’. This is because Multiculturals’ access to their unique world of media, people, experiences, codes and references sets them apart, increasingly fueled by technology – and this cultural lens shapes their identity, values, influencers, how they socialize, make choices, and respond to marketing. Cultural ties and pride bind communities, with Black consciousness and Hispanics culture/language retention at an all-time high, with the linear Hispanic acculturation model superseded by Biculturalism as the new norm.
Multiculturals prefer brands who authentically showcase their culture in mainstream ads, and reject token, stereotypical or assumptive portrayals, and ‘aren’t you special’ efforts done only for ethnic events/holidays. Consistency and culture is at the core of driving higher engagement and response, as 75% of Hispanics and Blacks are ‘deeply connected’ to their cultural heritage, and it’s even more important than five years ago. 69% ‘want ads with people who look like me’. Further, Hispanics believe ‘brands should culturally target in English and Spanish’ (79% Hispanic-dom, 82% bicultural, 60% Acculturated).
Beyond information, advertising serves more important purposes: a relatable cultural context within their ‘cultural lens’ says ‘the company understands my life and needs’, as does empowered roles and MCM role models whose success is shared by the community. But advertising is only one factor impacting a brand’s appeal. Reciprocity and commitment are critical and that includes service, quality, the online experience, loyalty, the community at large and local neighborhood, and fair pricing, company practices, values and stance on key issues.
How culture is defined varies across ethnicities even at the lowest common-denominator view, and these cultural ties and pride bind the communities:
- Black: ‘Culture is what binds us altogether, and our social and political impact. It is how I was raised, how I look at things, causes I relate to.’
- Hispanic: ‘Culture is what brings and keeps our family together, our passions, how we relate. It’s just who I am, how I feel. I am a proud American, but my culture is Hispanic.’
- Asian: ‘Culture is what respects my family, our elders and community. I honor my Chinese traditions even if I was born in America.’
- Non-Hispanic White: ‘Culture is what defines me as an individual, and the preferences I share with like-minded people. I am a unique person with my own culture, born in the USA.’
However, while each community has uniquely common cultural values and traits, culture/ethnicity is neither homogeneous or one-dimensional, and goes much deeper than that. It’s about authentic ‘Bespoke’ representation as well as cultural fluidity, as 80% of Multiculturals also want to see authentic diversity in ads, even if they’re not the intended target. And there are many granular ways to analyze and dimensionalize the cultural tenets depending on the business, goal, need or insight that will continue to increase in complexity – from culture, acculturation and integration, geography, country of origin, lifestage, lifestyle, passions and values to category usage and media consumption, or demographics like age, gender, wherewithal, family structure or generation.
Lastly, let’s break it down by generation, so you can see the subtle and not-so subtle variations. Importantly, the younger generations don’t necessarily see things in our historical perspectives, and the mechanisms, context and vocabulary of how they communicate with brands has changed, they demand relationships, input and control, and backlash if their expectations are not met. Companies with broad-based appeal walk a fine line in applying ethnic targeting – but they must engage in two-way connections with diverse consumers on their terms. The 2020 stats oldest to youngest are:
Baby Boomers: 74M born 1944-1964, age 55-75, 28% Multicultural.
- Multiculturals unique culture matters greatly yet they blended in to fit in and succeed, keeping their ‘cultural-ness’ at home, but are now free to embrace their culture openly.
- 65% of NH-Whites agree ‘ads should reflect America’s diversity and ethnic experiences’.
- Grew up with 3 networks, fighting for rights (yes, I burned bras), peace, love and rock ‘n roll.
- Avid TV, traditional media and Facebook users, ad responsive,15% use ad-blocking software.
Gen X: 67M born 1965-1979, age 40-54, 39% Multicultural, majority ethnic by 2027.
- Multiculturals are rooted in their culture/ethnicity, highly bilingual, and 27% of the U.S. pop.
- Juggling child care and careers, $50K avg. income, 31% of U.S income, and 55% of start-ups.
- Tech and social savvy, 81% have Facebook accounts to keep up with brands, friends, news and kids, and consume 5 hours of daily media, led by TV and radio, social, and even print.
- They are more brand loyal, prefer real slice-of-life situations, authenticity and cultural appeal.
Gen Y/Millennials: 77M born 1980-1994, age 25-39, 44% Multicultural, majority ethnic 2025.
- NH-Whites bond as a ‘special generation’ while Multiculturals identify more by culture/ethnicity and Hispanics led the cultural duality movement aka Billennials, the 200% or Latinx.
- Average $35K income, Mobile-first, social media fanatics who expect integrated experiences.
- 65% prefer traditional TV, but impulse buy products seen on social media, trust online influencer information most. 80% like ads (necessary evil), 20% use ad-blocking software.
Gen Z: 82M born 1995-2009, age 11-24, 50% Multicultural, majority ethnic 2020.
- Their unique culture matters but multi-cultural fluidity and cultural openness is as important.
- Grew up as digital natives, ubiquitous smartphone use, 13 daily hours between multiple device content and online videos on YT, Vine and Snapchat, with 8 seconds of attention spans.
- 80% learn about new products via social media trust social product information from other shoppers most, prefer influencer and real people ads, and half use ad-blocking software.
Gen Alpha: 20M born after 2010, age 0-10, 55% Multicultural, majority ethnic.
- Multiculturals learn and are proud of their culture, traditions and language, but also deeply identify with all people regardless of culture, color, race, religion or appearance.
- Already crusaders of fairness, climate, kids safety at school, food and gender equality.
- Immersed in tech, iPads, smartphones, voice-assistants, and will apply AI to everything.
- Engage with brands, child influencers, enjoy ads, and impact HH tech decisions.
The key is that cultural relevance will remain a critical factor in today’s ever-more personalized marketing environment, and Trans-culturalTM proficiency and targeting will determine what brands win or lose.
We are a Trans-cultural society of young people defined by both ethnicity/culture and individuality, who celebrate diversity, and don’t put differences in a corner. We are all one, and we are all separate. We are all the same, and all marvelously different. This is quintessentially American.