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Targeted Marketing Requires Cultural Awareness

December 3, 2014


Companies don’t require a marketing genius to know that product preferences (in food, clothing, cars, etc.) differ among ethnic and cultural groups. Understanding those cultural differences is important if you want to get the right message that sells the right product to the right individual. To state it bluntly, targeted marketing requires cultural awareness. Culture, however, is a difficult term to define and local culture is more important than any other kind. For example, you’ve heard the remark that it’s a social faux pas to wear white after Labor Day. Macy’s found out, however, that in some African-American mega-churches in the Atlanta area, mother’s wear white all year long. As a result, it sells white dresses in local stores all year round. [“Atlanta Hats? Seattle Socks? Macy’s Goes Local,” by Stephanie Clifford, The New York Times, 2 October 2010] One of the pitfalls that companies need to avoid in their attempts to reach out to different groups is stereotyping. Helen Leggatt (@eBizReporter), a freelance marketing consultant, reports that marketers are still succumbing to the temptation of stereotyping when portraying groups like families and the elderly. “Advertising isn’t hitting the mark when attempting to portray parents and older generations,” she writes. One way to avoid stereotyping and enhance marketing, she suggests, is by doing better research. [“Marketers beware – research your target market or risk stereotyping,” BizReport, 16 September 2014] She notes that doing proper research is also the advice that Peter Altschuler, Chief Creative Officer at Wordsworth & Co., gives to marketers. Altschuler states:

“Find out what people really care about… and look like. Then build a story — a campaign — around that, The notion that consumers want to see aspirational or inspirational portrayals of themselves or want to feel superior to characters who might resemble a neighbor they don’t like is just that — a notion. And it’s usually held by someone who isn’t part of the target market.”

If stereotyping can be offensive or offputting to cross-cultural segments like parents or the elderly, you can imagine how much worse it can be when applied to more personal traits like ethnicity and culture. Being aware of the cultural differences in a large and diverse country like the United States is always going to be a challenge. Transnational corporations, however, must also deal with cultural differences in all of the countries in which they do business. Motoko Hunt (@motokohunt), founder of AJPR, an online marketing services firm, writes, “For effective international content marketing, understanding local interests and audiences is key.” [“Targeted International Content Marketing Key to Reaching Local Audiences,” ClickZ, 28 October 2014] By now it should be clear that understanding local conditions trumps all other types of knowledge. In large cities, conditions can change from neighborhood to neighborhood and sometimes even from street to street. Big data analytics provide the best methods for truly gaining insights into these differences. At Enterra® we use both mathematical and semantic analysis in our Cognitive Reasoning Platform™ (CRP) to help deepen the kinds of insights that can be gleaned from big data. This kind of complementary analysis is required because so much of today’s data is unstructured and requires natural language processing.


Esther Franklin (@etwise), Executive Vice President, for Starcom MediaVest Group’s multicultural division, bluntly states, “The much touted diversity in advertising — the notion that advertisers have finally awakened to the growth opportunities grounded in the multihued population explosion taking place in the U.S. today — is at best malarkey and at worst a veiled attempt to feign a level of sophistication about reaching and connecting with a diverse consumer base.” [“Multicultural Marketing Requires a Whole-Market Approach,” AdWeek, 1 July 2014] She continues:

“It’s great that multiculturalism is showing up more on the industry radar. Yet it continues to be confounding that multicultured opportunities remain underleveraged and underfinanced in targeted and total market platforms. Multicultured audiences are the fastest growing population segments, wielding increasing power and influence and will have a combined buying power of $3.8 trillion by 2017. Given they come to the marketplace with their own needs and desires, their own motivations and beliefs impacting what they want, where they shop and which media they consume and how, it’s perplexing that their perspective is still largely omitted.”

More and more is being written about the importance of the growing Latino/Hispanic market in the United States. Like other segments, the Hispanic market is not homogeneous. To understand it requires good research and analysis. Nicole Akoukou Thompson (@escritoria) believes that marketers get in trouble when they treat the Latino/Hispanic market as monolithic. She calls these attempts “Hispandering,” which refers to marketing material that is “curated specifically for Latino/Hispanic consumption, to make products more desirable and ‘digestible’ for the selected niche audience.” She notes that people in the target audience find the tactic aggressive and “charged with somewhat offensive content.” [“Hispandering: Latino/Hispanic Market Targeted by Offensive, Insensitive Ad Campaigns,” Latin Post, 4 November 2014] Offending consumers is exactly the opposite of what marketers hope to achieve. Thompson continues:

“Under the guise of celebration, marketers have hitched onto the ‘Latino bandwagon,’ and exploited Latinos by hawking Latino-branded toilet paper, pens, shoes, cups and computers, and anything that could be imagined. Though, this does not negate the fact that Latino consumers are a bit smarter than marketers believe.”

As evidence of offensive marketing campaigns that stereotype Latinos, Thompson points to a campaign for two coffee creamers that used the tagline “What’s better than a hot, new Latin to love? Two.” Concerning the campaign, Thompson writes:

“The decision to perpetuate the ‘Latin Lover’ stereotype, even with a product as benign as coffee creamer, shows the single-minded agenda of many companies, which cannot see beyond earning. … Hispandering proves that energies are not focused where they should be, and targeting Latinos with an agenda, rather than an understanding of culture, is problematic for Latinos and those hoping to reach them.”

Jose Villa (@jrvilla), President of Sensis, a cross-cultural advertising agency, agrees with Thompson that marketers have a long way to go when it comes to serving the Latino/Hispanic market. “Of the $171 billion spent on paid media in 2013 (according to eMarketer),” he writes, “Hispanic media spending totaled just $8.3 billion (according to Kantar and Advertising Age). Hispanic media spending represents less than 5% of total paid media spending, while Hispanics represent 17.1% of the U.S. population. While paid media doesn’t capture the entirety of marketing activity targeted to Hispanics, it provides a good barometer.” [“Why Most Marketers Are Not Ready To Go Total Market Or ‘Cross-cultural’,” MediaPost, 6 November 2014] Villa asserts that most Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) “realize they are not ready for … advanced cultural marketing models.” He continues:

“Total market, and the cross-cultural model I so passionately promote, requires Hispanic market considerations — including deep consumer insights, market dynamics, etc. — to be well defined, relentlessly updated, and ultimately integrated. This emphasis on multicultural consumers must occur from ‘inception through the entire strategic process and execution’ as eloquently stated by AHAA in their ‘Total Market Roundtable’ report.”

Clearly, real understanding and insights are needed to address cultural awareness and successfully adopt a cross-cultural marketing model for targeted marketing. “A total market approach,” Villa insists, “is akin to a more advanced, nuanced and complex approach to reaching Hispanic and other ethnic audiences. It requires a solid base of multicultural structures, processes and insights that most companies do not have.” Villa indicates that studies have shown that over half of the top 500 U.S. advertisers simply don’t get it. If they don’t get it, the companies that employ them are not being well served. Villa concludes:

“It takes a while to put in place the people, products, processes and insights to take a true total market approach. Multicultural marketing is a building block that can start companies down the path towards a longer-term, enterprise-wide total market effort that goes beyond just marketing.”

Thompson reminds us that there is a fine line between marketing efforts that attempt to address ethnic pride and those that result in marketing segregation. Villa’s total market approach (or what Franklin calls a whole-market approach) is aimed at preventing segregation while at the same time enhancing pride in the cultural diversity that makes the world an interesting place to live. Research and understanding are the keys to getting your marketing campaign correct.

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