By David Morse / President and CEO of New American Dimensions
An article this month in the Financial Times, “Advertisers Pull Back from Targeting U.S. Latinos,” quotes Linda Lane Gonzalez, President of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA), as saying: “a growing number of companies in the US are shying away from marketing efforts aimed at Latino consumers for fear of offending “racist” supporters of President Donald Trump.
The article continues to quote Gonzalez: “I talk to a lot of mid-sized (Hispanic advertising) agencies and they have experienced the same thing. We are all talking about three to four clients that we have lost in this new political environment — which I describe as open racism.” According to Gonzalez, some clients worry that customers and employees, specifically those who backed the President, would be angered by efforts to reach Latino customers such as bilingual signage and cultural diversity training. She cites an example of a client who asked whether their call-center menu should continue with a Spanish-language option.
Indeed, “click one for English, two for Spanish” does seem to evoke more and more protests among those complaining about the influence of Latin American immigration, alongside the gripes of those no longer having their English understood in stores, or in the case of Mr. Trump, those worried about rapists and murderers.
Piggybacking the Times’ piece, an article in PRWeek contended that many company champions of multicultural marketing are facing more internal resistance since the election of Trump. Said Pablo Miró, Vice President of Newlink, a consultancy firm specializing in multicultural marketing, “Under the Obama administration, no one would have questioned the importance of this growing minority group…now people feel like they can disagree with that notion.”
Did America indeed become more racist in 2016? Not likely. America has always had an issue with race, and it might always have an issue with it. What the long and combative election did was expose racial and cultural divides that have existed for a long time.
Clearly, even before the election, there were myriad indications that many in White America is anything but happy about the country’s changing demographics. In November, the Public Religion Research Institute released findings which showed that when answering whether they agree or not that discrimination today against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, 60 percent of white Americans agreed. Not surprisingly, fewer Latinos (29 percent) and black Americans (25 percent) saw things the same way.
Additionally, a study by Pew Research in 2016 indicates that Americans disagree deeply over immigration policies. According to the results, the share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying that immigrants strengthen the country steadily increased, from 49 percent in 2006, to 78 percent, while the share with this view among Republicans and Republican leaners was at about 35 percent. There was similar partisan divergence in views toward building a wall along the border; 63 percent of Republicans were in favor, compared with only 13 percent of Democrats.
Such feelings of resentment — which clearly they are — may translate into the marketing realm as well. In 2014, a study conducted by Florida State University, Research Now, and New American Dimensions found that among socially conservative white Millennials, only a third agreed with the statement “I react positively when I see an ad featuring various ethnicities.” Additionally, only a quarter felt “there should be more minorities in advertising, and 9 percent stated they “react positively when companies use some Spanish.”
Many point toward future generations, particularly Millennials, and their successors, Generation Z, a generation that is only about half white. Yet in a recent piece in New York Magazine, writer Sean McElwee interviewed Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, who found that 61 percent of whites under thirty rated whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African Americans – just three percentage points below their older cohort. “White millennials appear to be no less prejudiced than the rest of the white population,” Piston stated. McElwee also points to a 2007 study which looked at Implicit Attitude Tests, tests that measure attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. He found that, with the exception of those 60 or older, there was very little difference across generations in terms of racial prejudice.
Still, it is hard to argue with the power of demographics. Because Millennials and those of Generation Z are much less likely to be white, even whites of these generations are constantly exposed to multiculturalism and diversity. It’s what they see at school, at work, on the street, and importantly, on television. And let’s not pretend that non-whites, are likely to tolerate being ignored by brands. A 2016 study by ThinkNow Research among Generation Z respondents confirmed that culture and ethnic heritage are important to them: about 85 percent of non-whites surveyed proclaimed that they are proud of their cultural heritage and three-quarters want to maintain it.
If you ask me, multicultural marketing is here to stay. In my 2009 book, Multicultural Intelligence: Eight-Make-Or-Break Rules for Marketing to Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation, I made two assertions, both of which I still believe to be true:
1. As long as immigration to the United States continues (and it is expected to do so), there will be a place for multicultural marketing. That means in-language, in-culture content created for immigrants by people with the cultural competence to do so. It also implies the continued need for products specifically targeting immigrant groups, appropriately priced and sold in channels where they shop.
2. Multicultural marketing will need to evolve in order to be relevant to native-born Americans. This includes LGBTQs, African Americans, and the children and grandchildren of today’s [Hispanic, Asian, and other] immigrants who will be English dominant. They will have a strong sense of their own ethnic identity yet they will not consider themselves to be members of a minority. Rather, they will be proud of their strong influence on mainstream American culture, and will connect with brands that engage them in a two-way dialog.
I contend that the election of Trump is just a blip in the long trajectory of American history. True, racism, prejudice, exclusion, and fear have all been fundamental elements of our collective story. They have always had, and continue to have enormous staying power. They left ugly scars on our national psyche. Yet when considered from the perspective of where we have been, we have made tremendous progress, albeit at times taking some giant steps backward.
As our national identity evolves to reflect our growing diversity, our relationship to multiculturalism will inevitably change. As marketers, we will all be multicultural marketers. We’ll need to remove our cultural blinders and understand the symbols and icons, the language and the psyche of a new America. We’ll need to understand how racial and ethnic identity add to our sense of who we are, as individuals, as a national collective, and importantly, as consumers. We will be forced to admit that, like the story by Hans Christian Andersen, indeed, the Emperor has no clothes.