Are multicultural marketers losing the segmentation wars? That is , are they slowly and inexorably being sucked dry of their distinctness as they become more mainstream? Is cultural differentiation no longer the lever it was always thought to be?
A new AT&T campaign aimed at African Americans triggered these questions for me. A pioneer in multicultural advertising (and a much beloved former client), AT&T rethinks the possibilities of the way four African Americans shaped their lives. The vignettes, and people, are real, the situations authentic, the possibilities inspiring. What especially drew me was the power of cultural relevance.
African Americans have long been part of the multicultural mix. Yet the segment appears to be drawn increasingly into general market budgets. It's the usual argument: They speak English and have been here for hundreds of years, so why bother taking a culturally based approach? Well, if that 's the case, why would a savvy multicultural brand like AT&T focus on the cultural narrative of African Americans?
The question is critical, because I'm beginning to think this kind of nuanced cultural sensitivity is getting lost as multicultural goes increasingly mainstream. Market segmentation -- down, almost, to the quantum level -- is commonplace in the general market where nobody debates its relevance. We've just seen, however, a few brands pull back their multicultural advertising into general agencies, including Hispanic and African American, where the cultural component is being "smoothed out" to fit budgets and for greater "efficiency."
If anything stands out in the cultural-relevance debate, it's that the ROI of multicultural marketing can be appreciably higher than that of general advertising. Client, agency and general-market research has proved the point time and again. That's why I'm beating the drum for deep cultural relevance in multicultural marketing, for the same kind of molecular segmentation we take for granted in general advertising.
We really don't need to look far to find the data. Just wander over to media company Audience Science, for example, and you'll see what I mean. It claims to tap into 200 billion (that 's not a typo) insights daily into over 386 million people worldwide. Our special interests and passions, across the global cultural horizon, are the focus.
U.S. brands need to demand as much cultural segmentation in their multicultural marketing as in their mainstream efforts. Multicultural advertising may not command the budgets of the general market. Yet given the accelerating growth of multicultural audiences and purchasing power, brands that wear cultural relevance like a second skin are more likely to succeed than brands that generalize their approach to a distinctive marketplace. With $2 trillion in consumption at stake, on whose side would you rather be?