Marketers to Ethnic Shops: Play Nice While Your Business Dwindles to Nothing

Is 'Cross-Cultural' Marketing a Death Knell for Ethnic Shops?

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Pepper Miller
Pepper Miller
I am appreciative of Judann Pollack's update from the ANA Conference provided in the story, ANA Multicultural Conference: Agencies Must Learn to Play Nice. However, a few hairs on the back of my neck are bristling a bit.

It's interesting that the conversation is about getting along (and we do need to), but there is a shaky past here. It wasn't that long ago, but ethnic and multicultural marketing were lepers for most general-market agencies. Today, general-market agencies have all the power -- the budgets, the media buys, the strategy and now even the ethnic segments. And they wonder why ethnic agencies are angry? Please.

Few ethnic agencies have the opportunity to sit down and collectively work on the multicultural strategy. Instead, they are given "assignments" -- not the business -- and are often asked to adapt the general-market strategy to ethnic audiences.

And I love State Farm's Pam El, but when she says, "There's enough business for everyone," I have to ask, Pam, where? Have you not seen the empty ethnic agency offices, and seen the claw marks on RFPs as ethnic agencies scuffle over the sliver of potential business that was once a slice?

Plus the euphemistic buzzwords really tell the fate of ethnic agencies and ethnic marketing. Cross-cultural is in. Cross-cultural = (new) mainstream. Cross-cultural = one size fits all. Narrowcasting is out. Narrowcasting = targeted ethnic audiences.

And someone help me please with that one-size-fits-all creative brief for all audiences. Can anyone share a success story from this strategy? I don't know how you create one strategy for ethnic segments and mainstream audience.

According to the story, Theresa Iglesias-Solomon, VP-multicultural and Latino initiatives at Best Buy, said there are commonalities within each target group. "We need to make sure we are looking at the whole customer." All moms, for example, have similar interests whether they are African-American, Asian American, Hispanic or Caucasian.

I don't disagree, but Black moms and particularly Black single moms see themselves and their lives differently from "mainstream" moms. Creating relevant cultural messages that engage the target is a necessity -- and a business opportunity.

Seems to me, we are leaving lots of wonderful and valuable cultural insights and nuances on the table in an effort to appear as one homogenized group.

Is the new approach really smart marketing? Seems to me it's a warning sign.

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