The New York Times reported on the latest attempt to make sense of cross-cultural marketing: the launch of the Cross Cultural Marketing and Communications Association. At first blush, the organization appears to be nothing more than the usual cross-cultural suspects—OgilvyCULTURE, Draftfcb and Millward Brown—officially hooking up in an attempt to build momentum behind their fuzzy agenda. At second blush, it’s just kinda pathetic.
For starters, the cross-cultural mouthpieces are saying absolutely nothing new—although it might sound new to the overwhelming majority of adpeople, most of whom never paid attention when cross-cultural fanatics began squawking in earnest back in 2011. The problem then is the same now; that is, the core message lacks clarity and focus. More importantly, there is no legitimate motivation for supporting the cause.
It doesn’t help that the cause is rooted in flawed thinking. The New York Times article spotlighted the erroneous rationales when stating, “Cross-cultural marketing tries to reach diverse consumer groups, addressing similarities rather than differences.” The statement seems to imply typical multicultural marketing deliberately tries to exploit or exaggerate differences. This is simply false. In fact, multicultural marketing ordinarily attempts to be synergistic with the mass-market efforts. And multicultural marketing, incidentally, often has greater crossover appeal to all segments than the mass-market stuff produced by White agencies.
The truth is, multicultural marketing originated from a basic advertising tenet: know your audience. In that respect, it shares primary objectives with the mass-market communications versus merely “addressing differences.”
But wait, there’s more. The fragmentation of media—accelerated by the digital revolution and globalization of markets—makes it silly to believe one campaign can cover everyone. The mass market is dead, killed by societal shifts and evolutions. Multicultural marketers have been saying it for years, and the rest of the advertising world is finally getting around to reading the autopsy report.
The New York Times article offered further bullshit via a quote from OgilvyCULTURE Honcho Jeffrey L. Bowman: “The industry says you have to be in the general market box or in the multicultural marketing box…Cross-cultural is inclusive of both boxes.” Huh? Sorry, Mr. Bowman, but let’s be honest. White agencies are to blame for the segregation in our industry. Clients too. Cross-cultural as defined by the Cross Cultural Marketing and Communications Association is what the White agencies should be doing if they are charged with reaching the mythical mass market. Unfortunately, what is dubbed “mass market” is shorthand for White. If cross-cultural is not happening today, it’s only because White agencies remain culturally clueless.
Cross-cultural arguably has little to do with multicultural marketing; rather, it exposes the major dilemma of exclusivity at White agencies. Indeed, OgilvyCULTURE and the cross-cultural components at Draftfcb are segregated silos. Bowman sings the praises of cross-cultural, yet he can’t even get his own office partners to join the chorus.
In short, cross-cultural clowns should not seek to distinguish themselves by criticizing multicultural marketing; rather, the judgments should be hurled at White agencies boasting mass-market expertise. For drones from OgilvyCULTURE or Draftfcb cross-cultural units, that would require confronting one’s bosses.
Draftfcb Executive Vice President and Chief Global Strategy Officer Vita Harris blurred matters by insisting cross-cultural demands agencies and advertisers must have their “fingers on the pulse of consumers…[and] a lot of that comes out of hiring people who reflect the consumer base.” So is cross-cultural a diversity initiative too? Talk about tying an albatross to the crusade.
It’s unclear what the Cross Cultural Marketing and Communications Association hopes to accomplish—just as it’s still unclear what OgilvyCULTURE is trying to do. However, the new organization is holding The Total Market Conference on September 9-10 in New York City. Look for a cross-cultural awards show, perhaps followed by a minority internship program, in the near future.
New Ad Organization to Promote Cross-Cultural Marketing
By Stuart Elliott
Five big names on Madison Avenue are joining forces to start an organization devoted to promoting what is known as cross-cultural marketing: pitches directed at a general market whose demographic makeup is becoming much more diverse.
The organization, called the Cross Cultural Marketing and Communications Association, is being started by the American Association of Advertising Agencies; Draftfcb, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies; PepsiCo; and two divisions of WPP, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and the Millward Brown research company.
The new association plans to introduce itself at the Total Market Industry Conference, which is set for Sept. 9 and 10 at the Ogilvy & Mather headquarters on the West Side of Manhattan. Speakers are to discuss subjects like demographic trends, how to engage new kinds of consumers, technological trends and how to attract and keep talented employees.
Cross-cultural marketing tries to reach diverse consumer groups, addressing similarities rather than differences. An example would be a recent commercial for Cheerios cereal, sold by General Mills, which featured an interracial family. That approach diverges from multicultural marketing, which is directed at specific demographic groups like Hispanics or African-Americans.
“The industry says you have to be in the general market box or in the multicultural marketing box,” said Jeffrey L. Bowman, the founder of the new organization. “Cross-cultural is inclusive of both boxes.”
Mr. Bowman’s day job is as the cross-cultural practice lead at Ogilvy & Mather, where he is also a managing director and senior partner. He has long advocated an approach that recognizes a “total market” rather than more narrowly focused marketing messages; before speaking to a reporter, he said this week, he had attended “a total market summit with Kimberly-Clark.”
The new association is “not a commercial for Ogilvy” or its cross-cultural practice, Mr. Bowman said. “We should think of the total market as a new revenue vertical for the industry.”
A member of the advisory board of the new association, Vita Harris, executive vice president and chief global strategy officer at Draftfcb, said one of its goals was “to start to ignite a community of people taking the total market seriously.”
A total market approach requires agencies and advertisers to have their “fingers on the pulse of consumers,” she added, and “a lot of that comes out of hiring people who reflect the consumer base” — that is, having a work force that is more diverse.
Ms. Harris and Mr. Bowman acknowledged that the new association joined a lengthy list of industry associations and organizations.
“We want to complement the other associations out there” rather than compete with them for attention and resources, Mr. Bowman said, adding: “If we’re successful, other organizations will adopt the total market approach. If we go away, great, it would mean we’ll have been successful.”