Brands Need Cultural Fluency to Survive & Thrive

By Nancy Tellet, CMC Research Chair, Culture Marketing Council: The Voice of Hispanic Council

Today’s multicultural teens and parents ages 25-49 have little tolerance for being disrespected by brands. According to a recent study by the Cultural Marketing Council: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing (CMC), more than half of people ages 13 to 49 have quit a culturally illiterate brand, saying it offended them or disrespected their values—that number skyrockets to 72 percent among Black female parents  ages 25 to 49. Thirty percent of teens and adults who have already quit a brand also said advertising adjacent to offending content was the reason for a brand break-up.

Brand cultural literacy is crucial to avoid cultural pitfalls. This can be problematic considering that nine of 10 chief executives and advertising, promotions, sales & marketing managers are non-Hispanic white. There is a real danger of getting caught up in a mono-cultural feedback loop. Cultural literacy becomes the way to both protect and optimize brands in the new multicultural reality.

With culture often at the heart of purchase decisions, brands are taking a stand against racial and gender discrimination with more than 500 brands, including adidas, Diageo, Honda, Unilever and Verizon, supporting change and participating in the “Stop Hate For Profit” Facebook ad boycott. In addition, brands like Aunt Jemima (rebranded as the Pearl Milling Company), Mrs. Butterworth, the NFL Washington D.C. team, and Uncle Ben changed longstanding imagery & history of their brand identities.

While 2020 has brought heightened interest in diversity, equity and inclusion, CMC has found that this has not translated to greater or even appropriate allocation of targeted budgets for Hispanic marketing, the largest underserved audience that continues to fuel demographic changes, cultural transformation and economic growth in the U.S. Brands must understand that diverse hiring practices from junior practitioners to the C-suite is merely a first step. With teens 17-and-under already a multicultural majority, with the under-35 segment by 2028 and adults under 50 by 2033, multicultural marketing is no longer a niche, “nice to have” marketing afterthought. Brands must re-think how they define the mainstream and ditch any white-centric “general market” or “total market” premise they may hold or risk market share.

In addition to multicultural centric mainstream efforts, segment marketing to specific multicultural segments  is here to stay.  With eight in 10 Hispanics ages 13 to 49 viewing Spanish TV and consuming SVOD content in Spanish and with Blacks and Hispanics of the same age group spending more than 43 percent of their online time within “in-culture” content, targeted in-culture efforts are especially important marketing strategies. Marketing efforts within “in-culture” environments pay off with heightened engagement, brand trust and a likelihood to buy by a measure of 60+ percent for both Hispanics and Blacks ages 13 to 49, according to the 2018 CMC Digital Lives Study.

Hispanics and other multicultural segments have the power of the pocketbook, and they wield it! They often break up with brands they believe culturally disrespect them or other racial/ethnic segments, ignore those that do not speak to them at all, and actively seek out those that do. Understanding cultural nuances and investing in cultural specialists for  marketing teams is crucial to both protect and optimize brands.

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