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Brands Are Not Yet Embracing Their Cross-cultural Future

Brands Are Not Yet Embracing Their Cross-cultural Future

By Jose Villa

This month, I had the opportunity to both attend the ANA Multicultural Conference and participate in the launch of the We Are Gen Z Report. It was an interesting intersection of where cultural marketing is today and where I think it’s going in the future.

The We Are Gen Z Report is a deep dive into the most diverse generation in American history. Per the U.S. Census, Gen Z is made up of approximately 83 million Americans under the age of 20, representing 25.9% of the U.S. population. More importantly, Gen Z is the most cross-cultural of all previous generations, with only 52.9% being non-Hispanic whites. Some recurring themes emerged from the first two waves of the We Are Gen Z Report:

  • Justice – Cross-cultural Gen Z is about action – 72 percent believe they can make a difference in the world. They aren’t merely talking about changing society and their world. They’re doing it already.
  • Brand “Me” – More than 40% of Cross-cultural Gen Z, particularly Asians, do not think brands are important, yet more than 55% believe people can be brands themselves.
  • Forget about Cliques and Tribes – Friends do not influence cross-cultural Gen Z decisions. Most don’t like brands their friends like. More than 35% say they want to stand out.

The most profound theme was around diversity. Namely, that cross-cultural no longer comes with the self-perception of being a minority. Rather it’s embracing one’s own culture and heritage with pride, while being open to and embracing other cultures. Nearly 80% of Gen Z said they want to learn about new cultures, while 73% said they enjoy trying food from new cultures. This confirms our initial hypothesis that Gen Z is the first truly cross-cultural generation, embracing and balancing multiple cultures as posited by Kantar Futures polyculturalism model.

I also had the opportunity to attend the 18th annual ANA Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference, which is arguably the preeminent conference on multicultural marketing. ANA Multicultural brought together more than 700 client-side marketers, agencies, researchers, and other industry experts to present a picture of where multicultural marketing is today.

At this year’s conference, the oft-maligned Total Market Approach started to come into clearer focus and adoption. Two approaches to Total Market emerged, based on developing mainstream marketing that incorporates ethnic insights to work across ethnic and general markets. One approach to Total Market was what I’ll call “the wink” – where general market executions are designed to not be overt about their ethnic insights, while connecting with multicultural consumers in subtle “winks” that speak to their cultural realities. An example of this was Glad’s “Mother-in-Law” spot developed with a “wink” to Hispanic female heads of household.

A second method – what I call the “Kumbaya” approach – was to show and celebrate immigrant diversity. Potentially a reaction to the discourse during the 2016 Presidential campaign was exemplified by Kia Soul’s “Hamsters: Share Some Soul” spot. Both total market approaches fail to reflect what we know about cross-cultural Gen Z. They are openly embracing their cultural heritage (no winks necessary) and are looking for authenticity (kumbaya is not their reality).

What was missing at ANA Multicultural was any talk or examples of brands identifying and leveraging multiple ethnic insights and overtly embracing the cultural reality of a brand. The closest was Coca Cola, which discussed its cross-cultural “America Is Beautiful” spot from the 2014 Super Bowl. While Gen Z may not yet be the core target for most brands, the emphasis on Total Market “winks” and “kumbayas” shows today’s cultural marketing strategies have a long way to go to be relevant with the consumer juggernaut that is Gen Z.  

An edited version of this post originally ran on MediaPost Engage:Hispanic on October 27, 2016.