By the time I got into my car, the CNN broadcast of Jeremiah Wright's NAACP speech was under way. I caught him smack in the middle of an explanation of how people clap and keep time to music. He said, "From grammar school to graduate school we are taught in four-four time. That the dominant beat is on one and three. ... For African and African-Americans, it is not one and three, it is two and four."
Let me preface this by saying that a lot of what Wright has to say isn't my cup of tea, but the different-not-deficient line struck a chord. In an instant, his speech reminded me of the countless conversations I have had with clients and advertising colleagues from the so-called general market agencies. Conversations about Latino consumers and music and language and values and thought processes. Conversations about culture as a key to relevance and resonance and response.
When it comes to using culture as a potent marketing tool, there are clients and colleagues that "get it" and there will always be those that don't (or won't). I've pondered what separates the two groups. As I listened to Wright, I realized that "different but not deficient was key." Regardless of who you are, what your ethnicity or your family history, your economics, your sexual orientation, your this or your that -- if you are a person that can look at different as just that, different -- then you can embrace the compelling reasons for using cultural cues to strengthen marketing communication. If you can only judge different as somehow deficient, then I'm sorry, but you may just never get it.
U.S. Hispanic advertising specialists have often been accused of not making the business case for U.S. Hispanic marketing. Most certainly, there are examples that support the charge. There are, however, also countless examples where the business case has been made, and then made again, and then made several different ways. We've jumped through multiple metric and quantifiable hoops, only to be told that the case had not been made. Why? Is it possibly because the receiver of the information can only look at the market as being different and, in some way, deficient?
After all, we don't really need to make a business case to prove there are Latinos out there buying products and services. Latino shoppers exist whether we specifically market to them or not. The case we need to make is how incremental business can be garnered through the effective use of culturally attuned messages and media choices. It is a business case that speaks to the importance of reflecting cultural difference. In order to reflect it, however, you have to respect it. If the person on the receiving end of the message only sees different as deficient, those making the case will inevitably come up short.
Listening to the speech, I recalled talking to a client about bilingualism. I had referenced a very bilingual friend, a Shakespearean trained classical actor, as an example of someone who functions in both Spanish and English very well. Still puzzled, the client posed this question: "Well, does he only speak Spanish when he's feeling lazy." The implication being that somehow Spanish is a "less than" language. Somehow deficient. Why would you use it once you learned English?
Latinos were not specifically mentioned in Rev. Wright's speech (although many topics addressed, including a reference to how all of us -- except Native Americans -- are immigrants, was certainly inclusive). My point is that the speech wasn't exclusively about "people of color" as it were. It was about people. It wasn't about marketing or advertising, but it was certainly about the power of culture in communication and consumer insights. You may like or dislike the Reverend, his prior sermons shown in sound bites, and the impact he may or may not have on the Obama campaign. But if you can push all that aside, then watch or read his speech. Whether you are a client, agency, media or none of the above, it will reinforce that we are indeed in an era of change and while we need not always dwell on our differences, we need not diminish them or disappear them, because they are just that -- differences not deficiencies.