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Millennials Think Globally, and Other Lessons from the World Cup

Beware of the Total Market Approach, Racism Still Exists and Other Insights

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Whether you're a sports-inclined brand or not, there's a lot to be learned from World Cup '14. There's a lot that could be said about the game and the players, or the multi-screen storytelling that made this event a digital dream. But those things will be there four years from now. What's important today are some particularly powerful consumer insights that marketers may or may not have noticed -- insights that are relevant year-round and applicable in any context, from sporting events to shopping events.

1. Millennials think globally. The pendulum swings in terms of U.S. attitudes toward immigration and bilingualism. Some years are better than others and, depending upon your worldview, "better" can mean different things. Regardless of your personal perspective, it's time for marketers to embrace what is simply a reality impacting audiences of all ages, but is particularly important to millennials: There is interest in and access to every corner of the world and every language this world has to offer. Companies seek out language skills and international insights from job candidates. Cultural agility is a competitive advantage. Your brand must be culturally agile as well. Be careful of "total market" promises of efficiency. In a nutshell, a total market approach means integrating diverse segments and often leads to one cross-cultural approach, or a unified strategy. Sounds promising, but with an emphasis on consumer commonalities vs. differences, a total market approach often leads marketers and their agencies to blur or banish cultural cues in favor of Kumbaya compromise and consensus. Dilute the power of compelling cultural insights at your brand's peril.

2. The phrase "color blind" wasn't coined by a person of color -- nor was "post-racial." The World Cup reminded us that the globe is still wrestling with issues of racism and, whether we want to admit it or not, the U.S. is no exception. Yes, there is progress. Yes, there is hope for future generations, but not if we continue to propagate the myth that we should be blind to color, when we know that's simply not possible or preferable. Since when is going "blind" a goal? Millennials are color-confident or color-comfortable. Some might say color-courageous. For millennials, erasing color isn't the point. Embracing it is. For marketers, that means going deeper than a few diverse casting choices. It's not just about having varied skin colors in sight. It's about having diverse cultural insight. There's a big difference and the World Cup put those differences front and center.

3. Latinos look like everyone and Latino loyalty lives. Superficial understanding of this consumer segment leads marketers to focus on looks and language vs. lives and loves. Latinos love (and sometimes hate) all things Latino. Which is to say that, more often than not (and yes, of course there are exceptions, so please spare me the angry reaction emails), there is a cultural affinity that connects Latinos from the Américas and the Caribbean, in spite of their many, many (did I say many?) differences. Even as I write this, Facebook posts speak of Latinos banding together to show their "hate" for Argentina (it's a joke). It's a love/hate relationship, but the bottom line is that in the final match on Sunday, Latinos will root for Argentina, hoping that the one remaining Latin American team will bring home the Cup (they already have the Pope). Marketers can benefit by understanding how these Latino loyalties manifest and how they can be leveraged in-culture and in-community.

This was the World Cup that may signify the end of playing the "It's Cultural Card" when it comes to racism, homophobia and even misogynistic messages (visual and verbal) -- and that's a commentary on Univision's content and commentators, all of which needs to be addressed before Univision can even ask fans to consider their actions.

U.S.-born Latinos are running traditions and culturally influenced tastes through multiple filters and, when value systems clash, they are often opting to distance themselves, lovingly, from what may or may not constitute a slur or sexism. Traditions and accepted cultural practices can no longer justify turning a deaf ear to social change and racial progress (It should be noted that by the time Mexico played Brazil, Univision was playing defense and running disclaimers).

The forecast looks very bright for the U.S. National Team on the world stage. Will the World Cup also open channels of thinking that will inspire U.S. marketers? Now, more than ever, consumer opportunities rest in the hands of a global community that often resides within what we think of as U.S. borders. Or, like Census fever, is World Cup just the four-year version of the every-10-year itch marketers have to scratch off some stats and figure out what marketing to Latino audiences is all about? As with the World Cup winner (as of this writing) -- only time will tell.

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