No Trespassing: Violators Will Be Busted

Game Recognize Game; So Don't Try to Fake It

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Eric Henderson Eric Henderson
You pride yourself and your agency on being insight monsters, able to econometrically, culturally, and theoretically get freakin' jiggy wit it to detect the pivotal threads that drive strategy and execution.

You're 100% right when you pop off to your client that "Galowijans always salute each other with a whispered but animated 'Hagubala!' right before the moment of any purchase."

But after getting Client X to hand out your little hagubala-whispering premium toy on the sales floor, program results show a silent, spontaneous and contagious Galowijan boycott. What gives?

You've been caught as an intruder, an outsider mishandling some very correct, but very proprietary language ... homie.

Try the example of the non-native Spanish speaker addressing a native speaker in Spanish. Speaking in Spanish simply means that you're . . . speaking in Spanish, not necessarily establishing any sort of connection. On the contrary, it could mean that you have caused offense, even if you have native-level fluency and delivery (i.e. I'm not talking about Peggy Hill's technically correct but Texas-twanged AY-span-yole here. She'll fare better than you for reasons mentioned below.)

The issue with insight is how you determine what you will use and how (or whether) you will actually deploy it in tactical form. Maybe you could have taken the hagubala thought up from a tactic and used it as a strategy lens, considering all the conditions that surround its use, thus not taking any shortcuts in the attempt to establish real conversation.

A colleague of mine recently told me: "But you live in Bed-Stuy. You have to change the way you talk when you're out in the hood." I thanked him for the thoughtful advice, his diligent, extended accent on the word "hood," and his correct insight that, yes, even though I'm black, I'm from a different culture and speech: Dallas, Texas, sans twang.

And, after all that two-cent philosophy, my real response was: "Are you smoking things??? That's the first way for me to get got!" What my colleague didn't realize was that changing my accent to mimic black Brooklyn makes some giant assumptions, both of which are precursors to plain drama:
  1. That I can actually mimic black Brooklyn
  2. That they're not smart enough to catch me doing it
And once I get caught (because I will), I will be rightfully confronted for the insult, "Ohhh, so you from Brooklyn, now?!" So, when I'm playing ball in Marcy park, the only thing I lean on is the fact that basketballs are round in Texas, too. That's where our commonality starts, and I let it grow from there.

Hip-hop taught marketing the summary lesson here a long, long time ago, but marketing wasn't taking hip-hop cues in its early years, particularly where it concerns multicultural marketing.

Game Recognize Game. Real Recognize Real.

That is: True skill and authenticity always win out. Now, I did grow up with that as my hip-hop speech and ethic. (Yes, we had hip-hop in '80s Texas.) Skill and authenticity is a little removed from the popular speech and ethic of hip-hop now, but that's another day, another column.

What complicates the task of a thinking marketer today is that some people know they're being hunted as consumers, not sought as people. There is always somebody who's onto your game and your "insights" and is just waiting for you to reach a bit (even with honest intentions) and drop a corny "Buenos Dias" at the beginning of your speech or a "Wassup?" to a room of strangers.

The trick is that there's no trick to speaking directly to specific cultures. So, don't cut to that weak cop-out, "PC!" This is not about being sensitive to anybody. You should dare to approach insider language and culture because when you get it right, you'll get a pound (not the British kind).

And when you don't approach with a cultural angle, you can still win if you realize that sometimes all you have to do is say in your own brand's voice (but in the ideal cultural context of whom you're speaking with): "Hello, my name is Brand B. I've got something I think you're going to like. Do you have a moment?" (Enter Seth Godin.)

This isn't a blanket rule. I'm really talking about how to reach the powerful and influential subset of any group, be it board members, surfers, black students, 30-something white men in Los Angeles. I'm talking about the group most likely to respond to an honest approach. They're important because they tend to be the trendsetters and not caught up in their own status.

However, an honest approach can only come from matching thoughtful research (have game!) with thoughtful deployment of insight (be real!). If you're a marketer, you should know how to challenge your agency on both counts or you'll relegate your brand to engagement on a lower plane, talking exclusively with followers and probably happily unaware due to your apparent success. But in the end . . .

Game recognize Game. Real recognize Real.

(Ask me why there's no "s")
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