All things to all people: Cracking the total market code

Multicultural marketing can help drive down costs, but how do brands avoid alienating different cultures and ethnicities? Geometry Global's creative director proposes a balance

A few days ago, I watched an episode of "Mad Men" in which account exec Pete Campbell noted that African-American consumers were out-buying the "general market" by two to one. He wanted to shift some of the media budget to target that consumer segment. The client wasn’t thrilled with the suggestion because it meant they would have to pay for double the ads. Cleverly, Campbell responded, "No, do them together, integrate it."

Integration is still a hot topic in every marketer’s conference room, but its scope has changed to include additional ethnicities and cultural groups, most notably Hispanics, who now account for 17.4% of the US population, in addition to Asian-Americans and people who self-identify as belonging to two or more races. The buying power of multicultural consumers is "growing at an exponential rate versus total US consumers" and is disproportionately driving sales, growth and profits in a range of major product categories from dairy to detergents, according to Nielsen’s 2015 report "The Multicultural Edge: Rising Super-Consumers."

In recent years, the total market approach has been hailed as a cost-effective way for brands to reach both its mainstream and multicultural consumers while keeping budgets in check. The idea is to tap into universal commonalities while acknowledging cultural nuances with a single brand message.

This TV spot for Clorox’s Pine Sol is a good example of a brand embracing the total market approach. Pine Sol found a convergence among Caucasians, African-Americans and Hispanics that would leverage a single strategy for all; the insight that the odor from a filthy kitchen trash can is intensely disliked by all people regardless of ethnicity became commonality upon which the spot was built.

But in practice, the bid to be efficient means brands often end up with creative that is so broad it feels irrelevant to nearly everyone. The short-term financial efficiency of this approach ends up being expensive in the long run because multicultural consumers don’t see enough of their cultural cues reflected in the brand’s communications.

So the question is can marketers truly achieve that sweet spot of balance between efficiency and relevance with the total market approach?

I believe it’s possible when they make some critical adjustments in the way campaign ideas are generated, developed and executed. Brand teams are often mistakenly convinced that winning insights can only come from the general market and that insights drawn from multicultural groups are too specific and likely to alienate Caucasian consumers. In reality, marketers need to be open to the prospect of multicultural insights generating the pivotal idea for a TM campaign. They need to invest in identifying and harnessing the cultural influences that impact shopping behavior and viewing the purchase decision journey through the lens of culture is a very effective way to do this.

Consider the case of Kraft’s "Twist the Dish" campaign, which we worked on. The campaign was intended to promote Kraft products among families with an annual income of less than $60,000, most significantly Millennials of all ethnicities as well as Hispanic families. The brand honed in on the insight that Hispanic moms love creating clever "hacks" in the kitchen, using ingenuity to mix ingredients and create economical new dishes that delight their families. This insight, although rooted in Hispanic culture, also deeply resonated with resourceful, adventurous and cash-strapped Millennials and thus became the basis of a very successful national campaign.

Rethinking the source of the main idea isn’t enough, though. Equally important, is making sure a culturally inclusive view is integrated upstream from strategic planning and media buying to execution. To do that, the approach needs to have buy-in from the highest levels of an organization and not only trickle down into the marketing department but across the organization into product innovation, sales and operations.

To truly enable scale and still be effective, multicultural cues can’t be an add-on to a general market strategy and remain the domain of a specialized small unit of a brand team. Rather, ethnic perspectives need to be properly understood by the entire marketing team as these "niche" segments or no longer niche and are quickly becoming the new mainstream. 

This collaborative process, where subject-matter experts across all the multicultural groups confer from planning to execution, can result in finding the common ground across ethnicities that can be the basis of a campaign that makes an emotional connection with various segments. Of course, even with these adaptations, the total market approach cannot and should not be the answer in all situations. Much of it depends on the brand, product and specific marketing challenge at hand. But, done right, it can offer brands the opportunity to authentically resonate with the widest possible cross-section of consumers without breaking the bank. 

Monica Ramirez Nadela is creative director of Geometry Global.

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