Our society has come a long way on this issue. Too bad we can't say the same for the advertising industry, which rarely treads into interracial ground. Television programming, at least to a certain extent, has reflected the increase of interracial marriage. In the mid-2000s, the series "Grey 's Anatomy" featured a love affair between an Asian woman, played by Sandra Oh, and an African-American man, played by Isaiah Washington. Today, NBC's "Parenthood" features a relationship between a white man and a black woman. ABC's "Happy Endings" has a black man married to a white woman. Fox's "Traffic Light" and ABC's "Mr. Sunshine," though canceled last year, are also examples. And both "Glee" and "Modern Family" take this game to an entirely new level with gay parents. Commercials don't go there, which is ironic given the ubiquity of mixed-race models. One notable exception was Verizon, which several years ago aired sitcom-like commercials with the Elliott family, with a white dad and a Latina mom. However, more the norm are ads like the ones for eHarmony or Viagra, which seem to go to great lengths to show same-race couples. Is it because they risk offending a swath of customers? I think not. In 2005, the pop-culture critic and University of Southern California professor Todd Boyd was interviewed by NPR on the subject of interracial couples on television. "At this stage in time, there may be people in our society who are uncomfortable with interracial relationships, but ... there are far more controversial issues that are on the list now," he said. "I'm not even sure if I think of it as pushing the envelope." If it wasn't pushing the envelope seven years ago, it certainly isn't now. America has changed in its demography and attitudes, a reality that is not yet reflected in advertising. That spells opportunity for marketers. As Verizon must have figured out, showing a mixed-race couple in a commercial is a wink to the millions of Americans who are either in interracial relationships, or more profoundly, the 9 million people in the 2010 Census who reported that they are more than one race. Not to mention the 19 million who reported being "some other race." Or the 43% of us who think that intermarriage is a good thing for our country. Why is representation so important? Madison Avenue spends so much money on market research with companies like mine to understand what makes consumers tick, to achieve a stronger emotional connection with them. When you've been in the minority (whether gay, in a mixed-race relationship, with disabilities, of color) and you see yourself in a commercial, it means something. That's the wink. It's a "My God, they get me." As for the Deep South, it may ultimately be demographics, specifically Hispanic migration, that change the attitude of some about multiculturalism. According to the 2010 Census, three of the five U.S. counties with the fastest growth in Hispanic population were in Georgia and Alabama. In Georgia alone, 120 counties (6% of the nation's total) had a Hispanic growth percentage above the national average of 43%. America is changing. The South is changing faster. After I wrote my last blog, I got some hate mail. Clearly, like Buchanan, not everyone in America thinks change is a good thing. But that we are going through profound social and demographic change is beyond dispute. For marketers, that should be a call to take the lead in promoting an idea -- the idea of a new America -- and in the process, win over a whole lot of consumers who used to be uninvited to the party.
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