Summer Interns 2012 Series: Trendsetting for Two

When Multicultural Goes Mainstream

Editor's Note: Our TVP summer interns arrived a couple of weeks ago, and dove right into work all across the agency. This is the first in a series of blog posts by those interns. We hope you'll enjoy their fresh perspective as much as we have so far. The author of this post, Bailey Kielarowski, is an intern in the Brand Management department, and will be a senior at The College of William and Mary in the fall.

It’s the minority marketing trend that’s fast becoming a majority reality: general market isn’t what it used to be. Alberto Ferrer’s post on April 30, “The General Market Myth,” examined how census data tells only part of the story when it comes to the influence of minorities in the U.S. Not only do the numbers understate their actual influence in trendsetter markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, that influence is also turning the traditional paradigm of adapting general market campaigns to multicultural audiences on its head. Enter multicultural goes mainstream.

Your breakfast cereal, your beer, and even your Big Mac are taking cues, not from the Anglo general market, but from Hispanics, blacks, and Asians. While McDonald’s hasn’t gone so far as changing the classic patty, the company does use a disproportionately high number of Hispanics, blacks, and Asians in its focus groups to develop menus and advertising. Minority input has already guided the recipe development and advertising direction of new products like McDonald’s mochas and fruit smoothies. Brewers have followed suit, aligning themselves with the musical genre that set the precedent in minority-influenced majority taste: hip-hop. Companies such as Coors Light have partnered with artists like Ice Cube in the hopes of tapping into their cross-cultural appeal. Cheerios manufacturer General Mills has even launched a dulce de leche flavor, one it doesn’t see as confined to an exclusively Hispanic audience.

Marketers are realizing this: multicultural and mainstream are a two-way street. For an industry that has long favored a one-sided approach, this is refreshing development. By imagining, as McDonald’s does, how to sell a product if the U.S. population was only Hispanic, brands can set trends and provide fresh insights into the general market while also connecting with a minority audience. Most importantly, this kind of thinking is generating real results. McDonald’s Hispanic-inspired “Fiesta Menu,” which launched on the west coast in the 1990’s, fared well enough with its target market, but over-performed in historically general market areas like Laguna Beach, where the population was over 90% white.

The danger in adapting communications to any market other than the one for which it was originally intended is, of course, fidelity to the target audience. There are truths that cross the bounds of age, ethnicity, and gender, but those truths must still be recognized as such by those receiving them. Marketers must take care not to sacrifice sincerity for the sake of semblance. And when we do, we may just surprise ourselves with what we uncover.

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