They don't understand that to get the attention of the growing and evolving multicultural market they have to respect the perspective of this market. When advertising is focused only at a white, Anglo-Saxon sensibility, marketers miss huge opportunities, especially in major urban markets across the country.
Some consumer marketers think they are making an end-run on this issue by spending special ad funds on ethnic campaigns or in foreign languages. This isn't enough, especially when there are generations that have grown up here who are professional managers and business owners and are very much assimilated and vital in America's mainstream.
Marketers still treat the makeup of the consumer mainstream market the way it was after World War II. Though this market has become more racially and ethnically diverse, this is not being recognized in advertising.
Most of today's general-market ads still focus on only one audience. Even when people of color are wedged into them, it is usually to get attention or use their celebrity or stereotypical attributes. In most cases, the message is simply "we're talking to you, too."
It is difficult not to wonder whether the creatives on many contemporary ad campaigns ever had any kind of multicultural life experiences, whether in family, college or adulthood. Because of this, a lot of mainstream ads are ignored by multicultural audiences.
In 1999, how can marketers consider this acceptable?
Paralleling the development of African-American middle and upper classes, African-American economic power is surpassing the $400 billion mark. The presence of African-Americans in management has become obvious as well as in the arts and politics.
Record growth in the Hispanic population is even causing major metros to become minority-majority markets, as the sum of combined diverse population groups dominates such markets. Hispanics' economic power represents a $300 billion market and is growing?
The Asian-Pacific population -- now a group with a far more complex makeup comprising Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Pacific Islander, Vietnamese and even several Chinese cultures -- is providing significant business and social leadership with discriminating consumer power.
But here's the rub: Many marketers admit those ethnic market segments have grown and have buying power; but they contend their bread and butter is the mainstream. That's where the discretionary money is concentrated, they say -- especially the upscale bucks. (As though African-, Asian- and Hispanic-Americans don't go to college or drive the car of their choice.)
Then these marketers go on to say, "and, anyway, if they are assimilated they'll get our mainstream message." These companies just don't get it.
Marketers were quick to adapt to avante garde fashions, single moms, Gen Xers and the Internet. Yet there is this difficulty bridging the gap between the old and new melting pots of America.
PLAN FOR DIVERSITY
What should we do? There are several very simple steps that will garner significantly more share of the market for mainstream advertising efforts:
* Develop new creative approaches that respect America's differences while celebrating its similarities;
* Hire creative advertising agency professionals who have experienced the realities of multiculturalism, regardless of their race or color, gender or culture.
* Create an affinity for products, services and brands among the newest and oldest of the multicultural population.
* Make a decision to get your money's worth out of media dollars in the new millennium, at whose midpoint in the next century we will see half America's population coming from what are now "minority" groups.
Wonder what we will call ourselves midpoint in the new millennium? Polycultural? How about Americans?
Mr. Climons is creative director and Mr. O'Connor is marketing director at Crossover Creative Group, San Francisco, an independent agency that targets