Multicultural marketing opportunities will be central to the pitches from TV network groups when they host their (virtual) upfront presentations this week, ranging from how audience targeting products can help brands better reach Black and Hispanic consumers to promoting access to research on diverse audiences to inform creative.
This year’s upfront ad haggle will have a new nuance: amid media agencies trying to negotiate more favorable pricing and incorporate more robust data and audience targeting to their ad buys, they will also be looking to find content and media properties that are inclusive and representative of brands’ consumer bases and help marketers meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
One year in to the social justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, the 2021 upfronts present a tangible opportunity for brands, many of which issued commitments to the movement early on, to quite literally put their money where their mouth is.
An important part of this strategy will include shifting ad spend into minority-owned media companies to help foster more diverse voices and content that have long been overlooked. Agencies like GroupM and IPG Mediabrands announced financial commitments last week to those companies.
But those investments are coming off of small (and in some cases nonexistent) budgets. The reality is a lion's share of the $20 billion that’s typically committed during the upfronts will continue to go to stalwarts like NBCUniversal, Disney and ViacomCBS. But in order to be guaranteed these dollars, media behemoths are expected to come to the table with opportunities for brands to reach more diverse audiences in ways that are authentic and truly representative.
“Knowing even with our best efforts and intentions of supporting minority-owned and targeted media, a bulk of the dollars will still sit in mass market. But mass media needs to change, we need to see diversity of content and audiences that’s reflective of the population,” says Lisa Torres, president, multicultural, Publicis Media. “It can’t be increasingly older and whiter.”
Publicis has sent out inquiries asking how media companies are investing in diversity, equity and inclusion internally, and also how DE&I shows up in their productions—not just from a casting perspective, but also the writers, show runners, directors and camera people. “We are not trying to police or build a report card, we are just trying to match up our clients’ value perspective with our vendors,” Torres says.
Who’s behind the camera?
The glitzy upfronts of yore—or two years ago—predictably included the TV networks parading out their young, attractive, high-profile celebrity talent who would star in upcoming programming for the new fall season. Talent will continue to be important, but instead of getting googley-eyed over yet another classic reboot or spin-off, brands will be more impressed by the diversity makeup of the cast, and even more curious about who is creating the content.
“You will see more networks talking about the makeup of their directors, casts and the diversity inside of those in an effort to better speak to minority audiences,” says Geoffrey Calabrese, chief investment officer, Omnicom Media Group. “The dynamic of the family is changing and we want to be in programming that consumers are able to identify with.”
Over the past several months TV networks have announced efforts to diversify in front of and behind the camera: ViacomCBS, Disney and NBCUniversal, among others, have announced various initiatives related to these goals. Now these companies will need to show how these programs have led to a tangible change in the makeup of the content if they want to win ad dollars.
To this end, during its upfront pitch on Wednesday, WarnerMedia will unveil The Milestone Initiative, a multi-month campaign that provides a platform for “Black stories and Black imagination to flourish.” WarnerMedia, whose networks include TBS, TNT and TruTV, will be looking for brand partners to be woven into the purpose-driven program. It will include custom content campaigns and multi-platform campaign extensions, says Jean Paul Colaco, head of ad sales, WarnerMedia.
The initiative was born from Milestone Media, best known for creating Milestone Comics, which served as a proving ground for Black comic book creators in the 1990s. Similarly, Milestone Initiative aims to provide mentorship, tools and access to emerging writers and artists of color who are trying to gain a foothold in the comic book industry.
Fox will use its presentation to highlight how all of its pilots from this development season were written by women, and A+E Networks is talking up its deals with talent like Robin Roberts, Russell Westbrook and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others.
Disney is set to unveil a new measurement solution “that will score and optimize ads and creative integrations based on inclusive casting, cultural authenticity, contextual relevance, and business outcomes,” Rita Ferro, president, advertising sales, said in an email.
The Mouse House also created Onyx, a new content brand on Hulu designed to curate a slate of premium entertainment by creators of color and underrepresented voices.
ViacomCBS has spent the last year creating a database of over 250 minority-owned vendors to give clients a roster of vetted creative and production partners.
Similarly, to more easily identify the makeup of its shows both behind and in front of the camera, as well as the makeup of audiences shows are reaching, Discovery is building a catalog of its programming that will serve as a cheat sheet of sorts, says Sheereen Russell, group VP of advertising sales and client partnerships for inclusion audiences at Discovery-owned OWN.
Advertisers will be looking for partnerships that allow them to collaborate and hire minority-owned production companies and work through the entire process together, says John Muszynski, chief investment officer, Publicis Media. “This helps create more supply in the marketplace against segments, more jobs, more opportunity and more culturally-relevant programming.”
Goes both ways
But just as agencies and clients are insisting upon transparency and more opportunities as it relates to TV networks’ DE&I efforts, so too are the networks themselves demanding agencies and brands make tangible commitments to multicultural marketing that do more than just check a box.
“There are some clients that really want to impact this and others that just want to say they are doing it; we are starting to understand who is really there, and those are the ones we are bringing first-look opportunities to,” says Teryl Brown, senior VP, ad sales, A+E Networks.
Disney’s Ferro is calling on clients to make commitments to multicultural marketing, inviting advertisers to “walk the walk with us.”
“Inclusion is not only a company priority it’s a business imperative. This upfront, we’re encouraging our clients to commit that every deal include multicultural KPIs, as well as inclusive creative campaigns,” Ferro said.
Discovery is looking to ensure the brands they work with are authentic to the messaging. If a brand is looking to discuss home buying, for example, Russell says there’s a need to be thoughtful and nuanced and not just put out a blanket message about what the American dream looks like. “Access points look different for African American audiences than a non-African American audience,” when it comes to things like getting approved for a loan, she says. “Not everyone’s story around home buying is the same; not everyone’s experience around food is the same.”
Russell noted an instance where Discovery was looking to work with a financial services company whose CEO has been quoted as saying the company hasn’t been able to find diverse talent. “There could be a lot of backlash with communities if we align their messaging for Juneteenth,” Russell says. “Not that we were going to deny access, but we want to be measured in our approach and respectful of our audience.”
Moving forward Discovery will do its own due diligence like background checks as a way to ensure the marketing message maintains credibility for both the brand and Discovery.
While every network group Ad Age interviewed said it already serves diverse audiences with its content, according to a new report from ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) and partner company CIIMatters, only one in three shows across broadcast and cable that aired in 2020 ranked above average by African Americas, Asians and Hispanics (this includes in-language programs).
Of the more than 140 shows and networks scored by AIMM’s Cultural Insight Impact Measure for their authentic cultural representation, nearly half of shows ranked in the bottom quartile among Black and African American audiences and Hispanic segments. In comparison, 71% of shows ranked above average with white non-Hispanics. CIIM tested for attributes like respect, cultural values, authenticity, good role models, positive reflections, celebrations, pride and identity.
While the streaming platforms actually delivered the majority of effective individual shows across segments in 2020, unsurprisingly, endemic networks like Univision, Telemundo, OWN and BET also led the way. NBC scored the highest among the general market networks.
It’s these endemic networks, in particular, that are perhaps best equipped to work with brands to meet their multicultural needs. We will see ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal, for example, lean on channels like BET and Telemundo, respectively, for research and data around multicultural consumers.
ViacomCBS has been bringing BET to the marketplace in a bigger way over the past year as more clients “realize their deficiencies in connecting and understanding Black consumers,” Louis Carr, president of media sales, BET Networks, said in an email. “They are engaging us as consultants on everything, including finding Black talent, retention, Black culture and how to engage and empower African Americans. We have been asked to sit on internal panels and share data and insights to help change internal cultures that are not conducive to a diverse workforce.”
These networks will also be an increasingly important part of media behemoths’ ad targeting and optimization tools. As networks have spent the last few years focused on audiences these tools can now help brands see more clearly where multicultural audiences and the programs they are watching, fit in their media buys.
ViacomCBS is developing packages through its ad platform EyeQ that help brands target desired audiences across its digital footprint. One such package is a bundle that combines BET with advanced targets that reach African American audiences across all of its streaming properties.
One of the challenges brands face in running ads in in-language networks is the cost associated with creating a commercial in two languages. NBCU is looking to help brands cross this hurdle by giving advertisers the opportunity to run English-language creative within Telemundo’s Spanish-language content, says Laura Molen, president, advertising sales and partnerships, NBCU. Since “the majority of our audience is bilingual,” the ability to do this “opens the door to a whole new set of buyers who many have thought that Telemundo was out of their reach because of the cost of producing a second ad,” Molen says.
While there's certainly more attention being paid to these channels, an overhanging concern heading into the upfronts is as brands invest more ad dollars in minority-owned media, it will further reduce the pot for minority-targeted channels. “I hope this isn’t the case, but there is only so much money to go around, but how you divide that money up may shift,” one media buyer says. “You may see dollars move from BET to Allen Media Group.”
The Hispanic Marketing Council sent a letter to 1,000 chief marketing officers this month, encouraging them to take a more comprehensive view of multicultural marketing. “Too many brands are ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ by shifting budgets from Hispanic to Black to Asian efforts without ever expanding the size of the investment. They also are hiding behind DEI initiatives as symbolic gestures, instead of allocating Responsible and Intentional Investments as a business imperative,” according to the letter.
“It shouldn’t be minority-owned vs. minority-targeted,” says Donna Speciale, president of ad sales and marketing, Univision. “It should be one holistic bucket; I don’t think there should be a separation. The key is what is the audience you are trying to reach?”
Working from the inside out
In order for ad sales teams to help ensure more inclusive advertising for brands, the work needs to start with their own internal teams, which, like the rest of the ad world, have long lacked in diversity, especially in upper management.
“They need to prove to us they have their own commitments to DEI within their own companies,” Omnicom’s Calabrese says.
“For our ad sales organizations to deliver solutions for clients it requires having diverse teams and perspectives to accurately and authentically connect with those consumers,” says Daphne Leroy, VP, ad sales strategy, ViacomCBS.
Over the past year, ViacomCBS’ ad sales unit has made a push to reimagine recruitment and hiring, retention and education of its teams. This includes the creation of a sales associate immersion program launching next month, where ViacomCBS created 20 new positions in its ad sales division that will be filled by high-potential recent college graduates.
Similarly, NBCU formed a DE&I council at the end of last year focused on building a diverse talent pipeline and accelerating hiring growth of people of color. It also aims to create clear career paths for diverse talent.
It’s these efforts that agency executives say will go the farthest towards creating long-term opportunities.
“We are thinking about it not just for this year’s upfront, but creating new specific initiatives that are sustainable and have longevity,” Publicis’ Torres says. “It needs to be a multi-year approach aligned to how the population is going to change over the next few years.”
How is the TV industry responding to the streaming wars? On May 24 and May 25 hear from ad sales leaders, agency executives and top brands on the state of the TV ad marketplace and how streaming is poised to reinvent the $20 billion upfront marketplace. RSVP here.