Political forecasters are predicting a lot of soul searching and possible realignment in the Republican Party after the "demographic shellacking" it took in the election. Might the results spark a similar reaction in the advertising industry? Several Big Tent contributors give their views, and we invite you to add yours.
The GOP succeeded in alienating blacks, Latinos, Asians, gays and women, in part because of its irrelevant messaging, in part because it ignored these groups. The little outreach it did often backfired, and was perceived by many as tokenism. The advertising industry could learn a lot from these blunders. Like the Republican Party, agencies tend to be dominated by whites. Multicultural advertising is often an afterthought. And ads, when they do attempt to reach minorities, are frequently perceived as awkward or lacking cultural relevance. The election serves as a wake-up call that multicultural consumers will no longer tolerate "business as usual".
The Obama win presents the opportunity for the ad industry to re-think who, where, how we count and gather and analyze information from ethnic consumers.
I've been frustrated for years with the ad industry's support of research "industry standards" that do not reflect America's changing populations. The Obama Campaign's data mining and analytics were developed from a bottom-up approach. Thus, they were successful in providing a realistic picture of the New America and ultimately identifying winning voting blocs.
While the ad and research industries snooze, young engineers and programmers (who represent the same "inclusive" mindset as the 60% of young people 18-29, that supported President Obama) are quietly developing new research methods and analytics using bottom-up strategies.
Like the GOP, research companies not paying attention to ethnic consumers will be scrambling to catch up if they don't wake up.
For several reasons, I do not anticipate any similar "soul searching" by the advertising industry. In my experience, the advertising industry has done relatively little to change the approaches that are being taught at academic institutions and commonly practiced: monocultural, monolingual, and indifference to the changing U.S. demographic landscape. This industry reluctance to adapt has reinforced the existence of ad agencies that specialize in specific demographic segments -- like Latinos, African Americans and Asians -- agencies that generally offer more value with culturally relevant strategies. To avoid a similar rejection as the Republican Party, the advertising industry will require major brain surgery to revamp the values, principles and practices that are being taught at academic institutions, and work more closely with experts that better understand these special demographic segments in the United States.
The advertising industry is already experiencing a shift (even before the presidential elections). As a matter of fact, there is greater diversity in print, broadcast and online advertising than ever before. I'm also seeing broader diversity within corporations, governmental agencies and advertising agencies. None of this has been fueled by the presidential elections. It is being fueled by corporate marketers, diversity advocates, consumer watchdog groups and political leaders who are pressing the advertising industry to embrace and incorporate diversity at all levels within their organizations and associations.
I see an acceleration of the shift that has been taking place for some time. The most prevalent version of this shift in the marketing world falls under the "Total Market" banner, whereby marketers such as McDonald's, General Mills, and Walmart declare the centrality of ethnic consumers to their growth strategies. Walmart's Tony Rogers recent announcement at the October Multicultural ANA that "100% of growth is going to come from multicultural customers" sends the strong signal to consumer packaged goods companies that their largest retailer partner is already leading this shift.
The impact of the election, and the resulting focus on how shifting demographics have reached the tipping point in a changed U.S. society only reinforce this notion. Senior executives in corporate America have a widely acknowledged reference point now that illustrates the need to adopt a more ethnic conscious market strategy. The election emphasizes this point outside of multicultural marketing, indeed outside of the marketing function, and provides a new touchstone for corporate executives broadly on the rise of ethnic identity.
Marketer's Sonnet 44You've four more years to pay attention to
Your choices as a marketer today.
These demographic shifts they aren't new;
You've just been hoping they would go away.
We are all one but then again we're not;
Diversity we can embrace with pride.
Our skin and language make us rather hot;
We want our same-sex partners by our side.
Let's not despair, there's progress on the way.
Rolling Stone and Gerber are but signs.
Black, Latino, Asian, Straight or Gay;
All came to vote and proudly stayed in lines.
Your brands, they aren't red nor are they blue;
They can yield green, but that is up to you.
(With special thanks to Shakespearean scholar Carlos Carrasco, whose knowledge of sonnet structure helped me to make this argument in just 14 lines, using iambic pentameter.
Look it up.
And look him up too.
His Immigrant Archive Project interview packs a relevant punch. The reference to 44 is to the 44th President, not to an actual 44th Shakespearean sonnet, which of course exists).