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Time to Be On The Right Side of History Letting Multicultural Marketing Drive Societal Growth

Multicultural marketing isn’t new. And yet, for an industry that prides itself on innovation, transformational strategies, and creative problem solving, it is an area of expertise that has been Marginalized, Underfunded and Disrespected.

In fact, in many respects, the history of multicultural marketing in this country mirrors the relationship the industry at large has had with consumers of diverse cultural backgrounds. It’s no secret that racist imagery was ubiquitous in early advertising initiatives for everything from soap to cars. We’ve all seen the images and the ignorant portrayals of everyone from Black to Indigenous to Asian and Latino “characters” – because to say that early advertising saw these individuals as consumers would be misleading. As with all systemic oppression, the dehumanizing factor, in the form of racist ad imagery and messaging, was an essential ingredient in normalizing the status quo.

As the Civil Rights Movement progressed, and civil rights laws were enacted, cultural portrayals shifted to some degree, but many agencies and brands did not step up to take an active role in countering marginalization and racism. Staffing remained predominantly white. Whiteness as a product benefit even became a popular strategic messaging point – whiter was brighter. While blackness was positioned as a negative – darkness and danger. While overtly racist imagery declined, exclusionary approaches prevailed. Black consumers were woefully under represented. By omission, the vibrant existence of people of color in society was negated.

From the late 50’s through the 80’s, agencies with dedicated cultural teams – Black, Latino, Asian or a combination of the three – began growing as an option for clients looking to tap into communities of culture and the promise of new-segment growth. Anyone who understood demographics could see that America’s white population was aging while non-white segments were younger and growing in influence and affluence.

So why the history lesson? Because it’s not enough to do what too many “well intended” brands and agencies are currently doing – scrambling to make statements about changing hiring practices, conducting bias training, and making sizeable contributions to community organizations. First of all, this is just the latest scramble – we’ve been here before. So, credibility is lacking. D&I programs have been around a long time – so show us something we haven’t seen sustained on a consistent and foundational level.

Show:

· Unequivocal respect for and representation of Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ consumers – in terms of their distinct and equal cultural identities, priorities, and power as consumers;


· Unequivocal respect for those dedicated agencies and culturally diverse staffs that have made consumers of color their priority all day every day;


· A deep curiosity about the lives and needs of these consumers – not as a token or diversity gesture or as a secondary or tertiary target – but as dimensional consumers of value and measurable growth partners;


· Awareness that these aforementioned consumers are essentially the very talent that our industry so desperately lacks and when attracted, does not retain;


· An understanding of how the cumulative consequences of racism, bias and white privilege have led to disparities and indignities for communities of color; and the courage to address the root causes of these ongoing issues.


In fact, in many respects, the history of multicultural marketing in this country mirrors the relationship the industry at large has had with consumers of diverse cultural backgrounds.

The data and case studies in support of diversity and culturally specific marketing have existed for decades. Brands and their legacy or so-called general audience agencies need to do a better job of understanding their histories and their systemic attachment to a dominant culture perspective. It is standing in the way of bottom line business growth. They need to be transparent and accountable. That’s a case study worth working toward.

This isn’t about adding more talented individuals into culturally tone-deaf ecosystems, this is about dismantling those systems and empowering non-white agency leadership, and diverse talent at all levels, to carry the conversation and reimagine the industry’s direction – not as consultants, not as “the help,” but as authentic cultural change agents.

Because yes, dismantling will take time. But growth can happen simultaneously. Many of us are culturally and ethically prepared for this very moment. Multicultural marketers have always understood white America, we were never given a choice not to. The reverse is not the case. So, while a large swath of the industry plays catch-up, take the opportunity to connect with cultural confidence, racial equity, and authenticity – to be a marketer on the right side of history.

 

By Aaron Walton


Co-founder and CEO of Walton Isaacson (WI), a full-service advertising agency, located in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Dallas. Walton’s creativity and strategic acumen have made him one of the most admired executives across Advertising, Brand Marketing and Entertainment industries.

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