ANA celebrates 20 Years of Multicultural and Diversity Conferences
When P&G makes it known that this iconic house of brands stands for both Profits & Growth and Purpose & Good, marketers pay attention. It’s no surprise that this quote by P&G CMO Marc Pritchard is being retweeted, reposted and restated as a validating proof point in support of an industry discipline that has been given short shrift: “If you’re not doing multicultural marketing, you’re not doing marketing.”
As the opening speaker at ANA’s 20th annual Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference, Marc Pritchard held an intimate and often emotional conversation with the marketing community—a conversation rich with authority, authenticity, humility and humanity. The son of a Mexican immigrant, Pritchard acknowledges the role privilege played in his ascension to marketing heights. He was, in many ways, a beneficiary of biases – aware that both his white-passing appearance and his Anglo sounding name allowed him to move through the corridors of Corporate America without scrutiny. He was spared the micro and macro-aggressions linked to stereotypes driven by skin color, speech patterns, and surnames. Pritchard is also clear that his vulnerability is nothing without accountability. It is this part of his narrative that elevates his personal storytelling to a powerful strategic reframing of marketing’s role as a driver of communication and connection through an expansive cultural point of view. Therein lies the growth that this industry purports to prioritize and yet fails to realize.
As P&G’s CMO, Pritchard has power – power that is both consumer and colleague facing. He’s well aware that a new and improved portfolio of multicultural case studies isn’t the solve for industry ambivalence. Proof-packed power points are still no match for the barriers built from biases and blind spots. Remember, the ANA has been gathering a veritable who’s who of marketing leadership for twenty years – that’s two decades of dedicating attention to the do’s and don’ts of addressing what is still referred to as emerging markets – a euphemism that continues to project a not-quite-yet-ness in the face of concrete, quantifiable, cultural change. The ANA has a treasure trove of case studies, presentations and award-winning advertising work collected over the course of these conferences. In addition, AIMM, the Alliance of Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing, which was formed by the ANA, in association with Davila Multicultural Insights and Santiago Solutions, has been making great strides on several foundational fronts, including talent development and critical improvements to culturally-specific data in terms of accuracy and affordability. Progress is being made and as Philip Polk, Chief Diversity Officer and VP of Multicultural Marketing at Hallmark says, “many hands make light work.” This spirit of collaboration was on view in Miami last week, as a strong roster of conference speakers lent their hands and voices to moving multicultural marketing conversations and actionable commitments forward. These were the hands and voices of Women of Color and Bald White Men. Members of the LGBTQ community and Allies. Asian, Black, and Latinx marketers who were intersectional and intentional. Veterans, visionaries, immigrants and image builders.
Among the many conference highlights were presentations by marketers who were unflinching and unapologetic about why cultural competency matters to their bottom line – be they in the business of cruises, cocktails, cars, or cosmetics. Along with Gilbert Davila and a number of notable panel moderators, Claudine Waite of the ANA did an outstanding job as interviewer and inspirer. Following a presentation by Ukonwa Ojo, CMO of Coty, Waite seemed genuinely moved by the power of the moment – two women sharing the stage -- women of color, immigrants, accomplished executives, exceptional thinkers —currently the exception, soon to be the norm. Ojo’s presentation was indeed a powerful display of cultural integrity and impatience. Using Cover Girl as her focal point, the CMO explained why, for example, rolling out twenty shades of foundation wasn’t an acceptable option when, in fact, forty shades were needed to delight diverse audiences. She illustrated the impact of diversity on innovation, advocating for cultural celebration and warning against cultural suppression. In her takeaways, which included knowing “what and who you don’t know,” she encouraged marketers to be honest and “identify points of exclusion,” adding that “individuals deserve to be heard.”
Earlier that afternoon, Dia Simms, President of Combs Enterprises made a compelling presentation in support of culturally attuned initiatives. At one point, she spoke about rigor and the glaring lack of professional discipline among industry executives whose responsibility as marketers should extend to all segments. In a sense, her brand of truth-telling seemed to suggest we put a new spin on the Pritchard quote. If you’re not doing multicultural marketing you aren’t doing marketing is certainly one way to look at it. But the reality is, if you’re not doing multicultural marketing you’re still marketing – you’re just marketing really badly. Your absence isn’t accidental – it’s an active act of arrogance, a decision to abandon communities whose rich cultural specifics you seem to believe your brand is entitled to ignore.
The final presentation of the event happened just a few hours before mid-term voting came to a close and in certain ways was a testimony to the election results. Over the years, who a voter wanted to have a beer with has been used as a historical measure of likeability and relatability. So, it’s powerful when a leader in the beer category closes out the ANA Conference with a presentation celebrating our cultural complexities and shining a light on our world’s cultural complexion – illuminating a spectrum of nuanced shades from the inside out. Ben Feeney, newly appointed to the position of Senior Director of Global Innovation and New Initiatives of Molson Coors, ended the 20th ANA conference on a note that sets a high bar for speakers who will take the stage at the 21st. Feeney shared a “playlist” that took on Polyculturalism, Identity, and Action, before ending with five Takeaways. The first, defined polyculturalism as “the intertwining of and interaction with multiple cultural influences and identity dimensions.” The fourth takeaway declared that “brands, to be relevant, need to be highly inclusive and deeply personal. He also shared an entire ecosystem reflecting work being done by Coors in recognition of intersectional consumer realities – never negating the ways in which racial and ethnic identifiers impact community – but not limiting the cultural exploration to binaries and basics. Feeney, who mentioned the multi-ethnic composition of his own household (his wife is Colombian), is not afraid to task himself and his colleagues with rolling up their sleeves, collaborating with cultural thought-leaders, and taking big, bold, steps into a future-focused understanding of knowns and unknowns. In other words, he’s a marketer who understands that his company’s growth is intrinsically linked to his own growth and his own ability to stretch outside of comfort zones and stay the course in spite of distracting shiny objects.
As the next ANA Multicultural and Diversity conference is scheduled for San Diego, a city that is not only home to the controversial border wall but is also steeped in complex cultural histories, it may behoove us to take a page from National Geographic’s Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg. In a riveting presentation, she shared the journey that led to two special issues – one on race and one on gender. “We asked a preeminent historian to investigate our coverage of people of color in the US and abroad,” she explained. The findings led to this statement in her open letter to Nat Geo readers: “For decades our coverage was racist. To rise above our past, we must acknowledge it.” Like the iconic image-making publication, our iconic image-making industry can only grow if we confront some of the paralyzing perspectives of our past and continue to engage in courageous and candid conversations. This, in a sense, is our collective work in progress and it is ultimately the case study that matters most.