By Matt Pigott - December 8th, 2015

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Toyota, Walmart, Target, and McDonald's are taking enormous strides to connect with the next generation of multilingual, multicultural customers

Back in 1977, George Benson sung the notable line: ‘I believe the children are our future.’ If these words weren’t prophetic then, they are today, particularly in reference to changing ethnic landscape of the US, because earlier this year something historic happened: for the first time the number of under five-year-old children in ethnic minorities outnumbered the number of non-Hispanic white children. In other words, non-Hispanic white under-fives became a minority. In light of rapid demographic changes happening now, no longer being driven primarily by immigration but by new births, marketers are being forced to re-examine their strategy to make sure they stay relevant.

Television works, sometimes

A recent study in the Journal of Cultural Marketing Strategy revealed that engaging the Latino population through Spanish-speaking television channels, such as Univision and Telemundo, is proving less effective with second generation and even less effective with third generation Spanish-speaking Americans. Third generation Latinos are hybridizing language, too, using more Spanglish in their conversations. As societies and communities splinter and hybridize, marketers need to keep pace and know that, even when shared language exists, cultural reference points often differ, and thinking purely in terms of ethnic grouping isn’t enough. Accurately reaching the right audiences and hitting the right notes means knowing, insofar as is possible, how different age groups within specific cultures engage and respond.

Walmart and Target

Ultimately, effective multicultural marketing relies on creating value by demonstrating a level of understanding that other brands may well lack. Both Target and Walmart managed to achieve this in different ways, Walmart by creating ads in Spanish (also using Spanglish) to communicate the value of a better life. Of course, marketers have been selling ‘a better life’ for decades–it’s their meat and potatoes–but Walmart did it by exploring the notion of a better life specifically for Latinos living in the US. Walmart’s campaign used language that connected on a level that stretched beyond the language of words, per se, and into the language of empathy.

Target took a slightly different approach by having ads that used only words that couldn’t be translated into English. They risked coming off as too clever for their own good but, by demonstrating an understanding of cultural nuances by way of linguistics, they managed to resonate with, in particular, bilingual Hispanics who were able to recognize the subtle references in a way that non-Spanish speakers wouldn’t be able to.

What this reveals is that bi-cultural, tech savvy, connected generations are receptive to more than just plain old, company-centric brand cues; they want is to know they’ve been noticed and understood at an exclusive level, not just as another bunch of consumers. Meaning those companies that demonstrate a deeper understanding of the minutiae of cultural differences–that go the extra distance to establish themselves according to a more esoteric knowledge base, and to communicate via messages that show they’ve taken the time and trouble to get to know their audience–are more likely to win points. 

Toyota and McDonald’s at the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agency Awards (AHAA)

This year, Toyota Motor Sales USA, earned the award and accolades for, in the words of AHAA Chair, Aldo Quevedo, ‘…maintaining a culturally relevant and authentic relationship with Hispanics.’ With a true Total Market approach and in-house multicultural marketing team working with agencies to generate and drive meaningful campaigns, recognizing the $38billion spend of Latinos in the US automobile industry, Toyota came up with Más Que Un Auto, a slick initiative in personalisation whereby Toyota owners can create a personalized chrome badge for their car. The free gift was the company’s way of recognising Latino car owners for their custom and loyalty. Squarely aimed at the Hispanic Toyota-owning consumer, the uptake was widespread with around 100,000 badges ordered via the dedicated website.

And McDonald’s has segmented its marketing to effectively target the key ethnic groups that consume its fast food products in the US, having Hispanic, African American and Asian American marketing directors to address their nuanced consumer needs. Winning Marketer of the Year, 2014, at the AHAA, the company was recognised for its inclusive strategy and its commitment to connecting with a culturally diverse consumer base.

The future today

The actions and activities of some of the biggest brands in the US in conjunction with the most recent data in the US Census highlight a single overarching theme: that the country as a whole is becoming, each year, more culturally diverse, and that demographics are changing in ways that mean marketers would be wise to build new campaigns from the ground up, keeping this intensifying multicultural dynamic at the forefront of their minds.

 

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