Ground shifts in California

By Published on .

Did you hear about the quake in California? I'm referring to a big tremor that's gone largely unnoticed -- even though it's resulting in a drastic realignment of the California landscape that will profoundly affect marketers for years to come.

It began quietly a long time ago but has dramatically increased with the recent release of Census Bureau population estimates for the states. This year's statistical "roundup" included one breathtaking fact: California's minority, or "multicultural," population became the majority in 1999 for the first time since the census began collecting data on the state in 1860.


Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and African-Americans now exceed 50% of the state population and will continue to experience dramatic growth. The non-Hispanic white population of the state is the only group experiencing consistently strong population decline, dropping to 49.8% in 1999 from 57% of the state in 1990.

This information leads to potential aftershocks with respect to future marketing and advertising trends in the U.S.


The first stems from an important question that advertisers should ask themselves: How important is California as a sales region for their brands? It's largely a rhetorical question. For most consumer brands, California is not only one of the most important sales regions, it is, arguably, the most important state market.

Yet there is still a very long list of major advertisers, together with their general market agencies, that have largely ignored the demographic realities in the state and have either not developed any multicultural marketing programs or have only done so in an inconsistent or half-hearted fashion.

For these companies, the first aftershock is a wake-up call: How can they maintain their competitive position in California without communicating in the strongest and most relevant way with the consumers who, from now on, will dominate the market there?


The second aftershock portends a complete re-evaluation of the integration between "general market advertising" and "ethnic" or "multicultural" advertising.

Since multicultural marketing first exploded on the corporate scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, multicultural communications programs have always played a supporting role, at best, to general market communications. This is evident in multicultural budgets that are, with few exceptions, still the last to be allocated and the first to be cut. It's also evident in messaging where, all too often, multicultural communications are still expected to conform to strategic positioning and message platforms established by general market agencies without the benefit of multicultural consumer perspectives.


Both these trends constrain the ultimate power of multicultural marketing to truly enhance brand relevance and deliver incremental business growth. But the historic news concerning the shift in California demographics (which is also consistent with larger, national trends toward multicultural population growth), argues in favor of a fresh perspective.


If California is, indeed, one of the most important regions for a brand, should not multicultural perspectives and programs be given at least equal footing within overall program planning, evolution and execution? Perhaps in some cases, multicultural programs will actually lead all efforts as the newly re-defined "general market."

Mr. Gitlin is VP-strategic marketing services, Kang & Lee, New York, a Young & Rubicam unit.

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