Letter From the Multicultural Marketing Conference: 'Total Market' Isn't Easy

Insight and Discipline Required More Than Ever, Speakers Tell Attendees

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Following a flurry of data points and sound bites underscoring the importance of multicultural consumers, there was a sobering reminder at the Association of National Advertisers' annual Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference this week. Only 22 of the 500 CEO's leading the nation's largest corporations could be classified as multicultural, said Gilbert Davila, CEO of Davila Multicultural Insights and Chairman of the ANA's Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Committee.

While one's ability to be a visionary multicultural marketer is not intrinsically tied to one's own multicultural identity, the lack of diverse representation in the C-suite is akin to the glaring absence of diverse "Saturday Night Live" cast members. It limits the potential for mining culturally rich narrative territory. Stories that should be told simply aren't, because more often than not, storytellers rely on insights that connect to their own cultural experience to craft relevant and authentic content.

And that's becoming more relevant than ever as marketers shift away from assigning their multicultural marketing exclusively to teams of specialists and embrace the "Total Market" approach, in which multicultural marketing becomes part of everyone's assignment.

A solid lineup of speakers at the conference repeatedly reminded attendees that Total Marketing is only as effective as the seemingly small insights that make an immense contribution to powerful, persuasive storytelling. While it may seem counterintuitive, somehow the art of telling stories that have universal appeal starts with the ability to find really specific, personal and individually meaningful insights.

For many marketers, not only does arriving at a Total Market process present challenges, but the very definition of Total Market remains vague and varied. But that's OK, they said at the conference. It's less about the jargon than it is about the journey. Exploring Total Marketing is strengthening the importance of culturally inclusive storytelling, not just culturally inclusive casting. It's giving birth to innovative environments and experiences like the Pepsi Culture Lab and concepts like Cultural Fluency, also a Pepsi priority. It's about insights and intersections between cultures, lifestyles and life-stages. The demographics are indeed shifting and it would appear that the in-the-trenches stories shared at this year's ANA Multicultural Conference speak to an industry that is slowly but surely learning how to pivot.

McDonald's Marlena Peleo-Lazar, credited as being the first client-side Chief Creative Officer to grace the ANA Multicultural stage, humorously leveraged her Romanian roots, blonde hair and Detroit upbringing to establish her culturally astute credibility from the get-go. The brand's "I'm Lovin' It" platform has laid a foundation for Total Market storytelling for a decade, while reflecting culturally specific imagery and strengthening an emotional bond through purposeful cultural recognition and celebration. Spots like "Big Day" and "New Arrival" inevitably made the conference attendees wonder whether they were watching African-American storytelling, Every-American storytelling or both.

She also helped take some of the messiness out of Total Market messaging by consistently coming back to how critical it is to put your customer at the center of everything you do. Quoting ad legend Bill Bernbach, Ms. Peleo-Lazar reminded us that "at the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature." That means being "students" and "really understanding," she said, but as part of a process applied consistently and with rigor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco is exec VP-Hispanic Marketing at Walton Isaacson and an award-winning playwright, stand-up and storyteller.

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