Every year in our business, multi-cultural marketing as a discipline continues to take shape and mature. Listening in on industry discussions and panels, I've remarked here before about the preponderance of myths within this realm of marketing. It's those myths that have led to a somewhat disjointed view of what "multi-cultural marketing" even is. Seeming almost formless, as a defined practice, multi-cultural has felt elusive as marketers strive to excel in this area. And that lack of singular definition creates dissonance, certainly when watching the market on who's doing what well and trying to get a beat on quality work.
The myth factor and its effect on quality
Yes, myths about any given marketing segment's psychologies, lifestyle, and demographic trends will sway the authenticity and cohesiveness of our work to attract and engage that audience. If we don't have a clear lens on our audience, we falter. Multi-culturally oriented or not, if we are off base on our consumer, any consumer, then we will be off base on our judgment calls from the strategic on down to the tactical.
If our view is skewed by myth, in what kind of shape are our consumer insights and how can we use them appropriately to guide us? Without a clear consumer- or audience-tuned strategy, how can our media or creative possibly resonate? How sharp can our optimization approach be as we practically, blindly adjust image, message, or any other modifiable aspect based on an unsound audience view?
Food for thought when looking at the work
Restless on the topic of "multi-cultural marketing" recently and listening to others chatter, I sat down to take a look back, meandering through ads, campaigns, and creative that caught my eye, or our industry's eye, over, say, the past year.
Coincidentally, as I was doing so, I had the opportunity here in New York City to attend a keynote by John Costello, president, global marketing and innovation for Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins, and he happened to perfectly capture what I regard as a fairly unifying marketing philosophy when it comes to multi-cultural. "We are moving from 'multi-cultural marketing' to marketing in a multi-cultural world," he stated as a matter-of-fact as he moved on with the rest of his presentation. Right on.
The fact that his presentation wasn't even on this topic and that he made this comment almost in passing makes it even more salient. Good marketers acknowledge the larger context of an audience and the day-to-day more intimate reality for that very same audience when zooming in on a particular community, and they know how to reflect both.
As it happens, one of the dynamics you'll hear a lot about when speaking to marketers touching this work is the dynamic of different cultures or ethnic communities living in "two different worlds" at once. That is, many cultures have to bridge two realities, every day, all day long. So, it follows that a savvy marketer needs to contend with that and somehow soothe the duality while fostering attraction. Sometimes getting it right is about solid in-language execution and other times it's about masterfully addressing other cultural considerations -- those not tied to language but tied to socio-economic or regional concerns.
In listening to Costello and thinking about strong multi-cultural work, it seems that it should come down to acknowledging, or taking as a given, a multi-cultural context and then homing in on the specified language, image, or interaction needs within that. Understanding that your particular audience may navigate media, content, and community that cross cultural lines but still needs to be served advertising in a culturally targeted way when it comes to how things are scripted, expressed, visualized, or utilized is where the multi-cultural craft-ship comes in.
That craft is a big challenge, and one that certainly has not been completely resolved. It's part art and part science, given the increasing role that audience modeling and targeting (not to mention inventory concerns) play for all of us marketers. But, we can aspire. Inspired by Costello's take and imagining how we tackle context and the cultural close-up, I consider all of this simply food for thought as I take a look back at some strong recent work. This is hardly exhaustive -- but full of favorites, for various reasons.
Delving into those cultural nuances
Pondering this idea of cultural day-to-day meets larger cultural context, sometimes the illustration of how these layers play together is…subtle. And, you'd do well to work with an agency that gets that. I took a look at some integrated media and creative work done by 20Nine in the Philadelphia area for Peirce College. The team at 20Nine often talks about how they incorporate a deeper understanding of the cultural relationships that exist within a target demo and strive to reflect these relationships within the context of marketing images and messaging. The work I saw for Peirce accomplishes that subtlety.
Peirce College is a small Philadelphia college that primarily serves working adults in the region. While its demographic is split male and female, its key demographic is African American women who are looking to earn a Bachelor's or a Master's Degree. Because Peirce is a college geared toward adult learners, its messaging challenge is already unique.
During planning, the team at 20Nine came to a key insight that Peirce is a college where generations of families are likely to get exactly the degree they need to pursue their particular, chosen careers. Further, it's where grandmothers and granddaughters often get their college degrees at the same commencement ceremonies.
Therefore, tuning in to the culture at hand, the 20Nine team has made a conscious shift. In the past few years, the marketing has evolved from themes such as "You. Improved" and "You Can Do This" to the current marketing campaign that focuses on the theme of empowerment and utilizes the personal stories of typical Peirce students. "Powered by Peirce," the campaign developed by 20Nine relays a message of empowerment and encouragement. In each of the stories used to seed the campaign, students refer to other people in their lives who inspire or encourage them. A few examples:
- "Inspired by my son. Powered by Peirce."
- "Inspired by my mother. Powered by Peirce."
- "Encouraged by my boss. Powered by Peirce."
The insight-driven concept used by 20Nine zooms in on the relationships that occur within the family and the dynamic unique to these families. As a result, this advertising has resonated with the cultural connections that exist within African American families. And, the campaign has been considered a newfound success.
New horizons on inventory and audiences
To look at where things are going for the multi-cultural marketer, from a scale and audience reach perspective, we might look at Opera Mediaworks, often referenced as the world's largest mobile ad platform, which in April announced expanded reach across the U.S. Hispanic population through the integration of Hunt Mobile Ads, the leading mobile ad network in Latin America. Many say this effectively makes Opera Mediaworks the best mobile network to reach the Hispanic audience across the United States at scale with Spanish language content. This will be accomplished through premium U.S. and Latin American publishers, accessible through Hunt's broad network. You may recall that Opera Mediaworks announced its acquisition of Hunt Mobile Ads in early January.
"Hispanics are a marketer's dream; they are digitally-savvy, young, and socially connected," says Gaston Bercun, co-president, LatAm, Opera Mediaworks. "Opera Mediaworks is helping advertisers reach this highly-coveted demographic while also helping publishers make the most of their inventory in Latin America, the United States, and beyond."
It's this kind of progress in the industry that bodes well for integrated digital marketing, audience-based buying, and the deployment of well targeted, culturally tuned creative that resonates.
Evolving formats and creative specifications enable cultural ad tuning
In fact, as the inventory picture and cross-platform infrastructure continues to develop, there are increased options for really beautiful, well-targeted creative. From an environment and creative specification standpoint, there's more room to accomplish more for these audiences, within options such as the mobile video format. Take this premium mobile video Samsung execution.
Everything that needs to happen with image, message, and interactivity does, neatly and in-format. For so long, this kind of calibration of the consumer environment and UI has just not been possible. So, with the added considerations of multi-cultural, today's options are a boon.
Higher decibels of scrutiny are inevitable
Some of the most talked about ads during any given year are in the multi-cultural realm -- and we often see a public debate over motivation or critique of a campaign for trying to take on too much. Look no further than Super Bowl time, with the conversation that ignited over Cheerio's conveying a layered message of inclusiveness, with cereal as the prop and the family picture as the context.
Or, consider the mixed feelings over Coke's multi-lingual, multi-cultural inclusive take, with "America the Beautiful" at the Super Bowl.
Debate roars on. But, are these culturally tuned to intimate daily or individual reality and a larger, realistic societal context? In many ways, yes. Are they visually and emotively arresting? Yes.
Resonance speaks for itself
One of my favorite recent campaigns that really fires up the full orchestra of "right," is the Sony "Join Together" campaign.
Its individual, culturally tuned images are specific, but by sweeping across the interplay of art, science, creativity, and engineering, in the day-to-day, it shows how our contributions roll up to the collective. It portrays a best version of us, a thriving multi-cultural mix.
In many ways, as with so much of what we do, we are witness and participant to a work in progress. We can hold up examples of skillful in-language execution across English content, well-targeted to audience; we can raise our hands one way or another on the PC factor of any given creative and delve into the layers of nuance and argue with each other for days. But, for me, it really comes down to that thing. That is, that thing that reveals the interplay of intimate, culturally spot-on portrayal and the broader, undeniable multi-cultural context of any given culture or audience. Happily I note that ad tech, the inventory landscape, and the state of our creative capabilities all seem to be playing along. So client-side, brand, agency, media, and creative teams -- those who've got that thing, and know how to use the options and tools now finally at the ready -- can make multi-cultural sing. It all joins together, if you will.
Kendall Allen is Founder, Influence Collective, LLC.
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