The Multicultural Market
To Be or Not to Be Depends on Who You Want to Be
Multiculturalism, at a Crossroads, Needs to Redefine Itself
By Yuri Radzievsky, Chairman and CEO
Anna Radzievsky, Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer
Multiculturalism, whether we admit it or not, has always pointed a finger at the minority—at something not necessarily equal to but different from the majority, or so it has seemed in advertising. Thankfully, we are leaving those days behind us. A new multiculturalism is taking its place. How it evolves will change the face of advertising.
The ad business is notorious for categorizing everything and anything—most of all, people. “Multicultural” was a nice convenient cubbyhole for all markets outside of white, mainstream America. But today those audiences, who in our minds were always trying to assimilate while we sought to portray them as singularly ethnic, are reclaiming their identity. In the process, they are redefining multiculturalism.
We recently launched a campaign for one of the largest cable companies aimed at what might be termed “the multicultural mainstream.” Call it the Hispano-Anglo neighborhood, otherwise known as the New York Metropolitan Area. The centerpiece was a 3D commercial, fusing technology and entertainment. It ran in English and Spanish and was an expansive initiative that treated its audiences equally. It is a dramatic example of the new, inclusive multiculturalism.
If you were around in the early ad days of multiculturalism, it’s hard to forget the terribly stereotyped view of Hispanic advertising: If you didn’t have an abuela — a grandmother — in your spot, it wouldn’t seem authentic, the joke went. Then things became bi-cultural. Young Hispanics, with one foot in their old culture and one foot in the new, spoke English in public, Spanish at home. Today, we see another kind of assimilation—Anglo culture assimilating styles, expressions, music and dance of the Hispanic world.
For many multicultural audiences, assimilation has come to mean dilution. An almost unprecedented pride in multinational patrimony has arisen. It has made the embrace of multiculturalism more complex than ever. Rejecting government attempts to measure and classify races, many younger Americans are claiming two, three or four heritages—an Hispanic mother and an Asian father, for example, adding to a proud trifecta of multiculturalism.
Where does this leave multicultural advertising, or, for that matter, advertising of any kind? While some groups see themselves as an amalgam of many cultures and backgrounds, others are moving in the opposite direction. External appearances—once claimed to mean nothing by egalitarians—have, as the press has noted, become expressions of racial pride. Noses, breasts, buttocks, eyes and knees have been the focus of surgical makeovers, to bring them more into conformity with perceived cultural norms.
What are we to make of all these changes—these trends and counter-trends? Perhaps it’s time to re-examine our notions of mainstream and multicultural, both as they apply to markets and to advertising agencies themselves.
“Multicultural” has, in truth, long been a separatist term in the ad business. Maybe the lingo of world trade and investment provides a clue. America’s Hispanic and Asian markets exceed, in their buying power, the GDP of many countries. Their birth rates are much higher than the general population’s. Why don’t we begin to call them America’s developing or emerging economies?
It’s a much more robust growth concept. To carry the idea further, every kind of ad agency—from multicultural to mainstream—should have an opportunity to invest the best of its creative talents in these economies. Let’s break down the industry’s traditional definitional borders. As we have proved in our own agency, comprising some 40 nationalities under one roof, we’re capable of serving clients in whatever neighborhood or country they do business.
Has anybody been asked to do black, yellow, tan or white social media? Somehow in the digital arms race—forget for a moment the more restrictive nations— the divide between “mainstream” and “multicultural” seems of another era. The color chart no longer matters in a self-defining world, especially not in the multicultural mainstream, where you are whoever you want to be.
We face challenges of a different, dehumanizing sort. Our personal identities may be at risk of losing, in the connected world, their cultural uniqueness. We are what we search, what we buy. Such are the metrics of online commerce.
The richness of cultural differences should be celebrated, not with barriers but a free trade of creative ideas, across the entire advertising landscape. Our industry should be a beacon of open minds and open markets. Pray that we don’t turn our audiences into a set of faceless data points waiting to be plugged, finally, into the next big algorithm.
GlobalWorks Group, LLC
220 Fifth Ave.,11th Fl.
New York, NY 10001