You’ll have to pardon me in advance as I’m sure the context of this entry will undoubtedly not sit well with some, particularly my colleagues in the general marketing space. My goal is not to agitate but rather to engage in an important discussion and to build value for those that may not be seeing the desired return in their current marketing agency relationship.
Have you ever Googled marketing agency? There are roughly 270 Million results. While not all of those entries correspond to a unique agency, in general, they are a dime a dozen. What makes them unique? What makes one right for you?
It’s no secret that by 2055 minorities in the U.S. will comprise of the majority of the population. There’s a popular cliché that says, “the customer is always right,” when in fact it might be more accurate to say, “the customer is always WHITE.” I know what I’m saying is provocative. Please allow me to explain. The phrase assumes that somehow the business is built around the customers it looks to attract, its best most populous and highest valued customer.
Historically for marketers, they never considered ethnicity as a factor in targeting and currently only account for it secondarily as an opportunity for discretionary income. As these demographics shift towards the impending tipping point, there will be unexpected radical changes not only in marketing but how business is done in America.
There’s no secret that America has had a historical problem with race and ethnicity dating back to its founding. Look no further than 300 years of slavery. Taking the emotion out of it, the American optic has thus been constructed as something that is very male and very white. Until now, the cross-section of America would be consistent with that image. The argument for more diversity was the rallying cry for then a considerably smaller minority. However, scales are tipping for the first time ever and the questions become, what does that mean and should that change anything in business and its brand messaging?
Over the past few years, big and small business alike have been strategizing ways to stay ahead of these eventual changes in demographic chemistry. However, we all may be underestimating exactly what these changes might look like. White and male has been the norm and the majority for so long in America that no one alive can accurately characterize what the day may look like when that is no longer true. We assume the only changes are how we all will look, maybe speak, even eat. However, have you ever considered what that means in terms of how the new realized majority exerts its power and flexes its muscles? Do we eventually have new political parties with different platforms? Is English the first language taught in schools? Most importantly, do customers demand a whole new set of rules? The residual effects on a changing demography are quite interesting to ponder. Ethnic marketing agencies have uniquely been preparing for that eventuality. Their world has always existed based on an assumption that is completely devoid of the general market. Their ability to deliver results now and then comes from this premise and one that if you as a marketer are concerned with long-term success might want to get on board with.
To this point we’ve discussed ethnicity in terms of a population, a finite number of individuals that is gradually growing towards this eventual majority. However, the ethnic influence on culture has long surpassed that of the median. Ethnic defines what is trending and cool. Ethnic is the voice of the millennial generation which drives culture in American society. These facts can’t be discounted or disputed.
Historically, marketers have sought to leverage the influence of those in control of the social capital. Its what’s made athletes, entertainers and celebrities the perfect choice for paid advertising endorsement for generations. In the last 10 years, we have seen a shift away from that model. Designers like Tommy Hilfiger looked to the “streets” to discover what was popular with the kids. While young people gravitated to these new trends, it was the reasons why that were most important but not yet realized. I call it the Kim Kardashian effect.
The Kardashians have been gracing our televisions, social feeds and any media source now for over a decade. But if we go back to the inception of our fascination, the mainstream general market was introduced to a white woman with ethnic packaging. She was beautiful, wealthy but curvy. For the mainstream, these images were previously rejected but millennials accepted and gave her a platform to redefine what was cool. She was deputized as their spokesmodel or influencer by her peer group despite breaking all the rules. Where traditionally first became the celebrity followed by endorsement, the Kardashian brand defined what was popular and as a result demanded celebrity status.
Today ethnocentricity is the ex-factor in the celebrity equation. It grants those that have it, bonus points and those that don’t, the desire for it often taking artificial measures. Marketers have begun to capitalize on this in their campaigns but as I’ve said many times, if you’re looking to resonate with ethnic audiences, it’s not just enough to be inclusive in your ad imagery. This investment in diversity must be systemic, from your corporate philosophy, brand messaging to your human resource strategy. For most, this is a quest that shouldn’t be traveled alone, this is where the role of an ethnic advertising agency comes into play.
Making the case for the ethnic marketing and ad agencies shouldn’t be a hard one considering the drastic changes in American demography over the past 20 years. Yet, our deep-rooted past of racial suppression makes the argument far more complicated than it should be. Despite personal prejudices, the numbers are indisputable and for white male marketers interested in long-term success, for the first time they may have to begin to cater to someone other than themselves.