Most dictionaries define multicultural like this:
Multicultural (mul´ ti kul cher el), adj. 1. Of, relating to, or including several cultures. 2. Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.
But multicultural has multi-meanings in the advertising industry.
The majority of folks use the term to label efforts that are anything but multicultural — at least by Webster’s standard. Go figure.
The work produced by Hispanic agencies to target Hispanics is deemed multicultural. The work produced by Black agencies to target Blacks is also considered multicultural. Ditto the work addressing Asians, Poles, Russians, Native Americans and more.
The only work that doesn’t usually receive the adjective, oddly enough, is mass market advertising. You know, the stuff intended to speak to multiple cultures.
Agencies that target consumers based on culture are dubbed multicultural too, even when these shops are focused on a single segment. Guess “monocultural” would sound slightly bizarre.
There are a handful of companies boasting to be truly multicultural, offering services to communicate to a variety of people. But these places are usually nothing more than coalitions of “monocultural” specialists — essentially separate minority practices sharing office space. That is, they don’t produce multicultural campaigns that appeal to multicultural consumers.
Organizations like the American Advertising Federation profess commitment to multiculturalism. The AAF Mosaic Center for Multiculturalism actually has a mission statement and tagline — Differences bring us together. Additionally, the AAF annually hands out multicultural awards. But again, it’s really about saluting minority, segregated marketing and/or pushing (but never enforcing!) diversity initiatives. As one might expect, mass market adpeople have minimal involvement with official multicultural programs.
Advertising Age irregularly devotes an entire page to multicultural editorial. In fact, the page is titled, “Multicultural.” Ironically, the section sits in the back of the bus… er, business publication. And the stories highlight “monocultural” marketing.
Is it important for the advertising industry to clarify the meaning of multicultural? Probably. After all, we do live in a multicultural world. Despite the rampant racism and exclusivity, the United States continues to be an extraordinarily diverse society. The new mass market is actually multicultural. Clients recognize multiculturalism — and they’re even taking things to higher levels with global marketing. But mass market agencies have been unable to capitalize on matters, primarily because their ranks remain “monocultural.”
It’s only a matter of time before agencies must adapt to the forces of nature. A 2004 Hewitt report estimated that by 2008, 70% of new labor entrants will be women and minorities. By 2010, the U.S. workforce will be 34% non-White. How much longer can the advertising industry deny and defy reality?
We may ultimately redefine the business once we define multicultural.