Move Multicultural Marketing From the Ghetto to the Golf Course

I have attended every ANA Multicultural Marketing Conference since it started 11 years ago, and the one held this November in Miami Beach was by far the best. In his opening remarks, Gilbert Davila framed the conversation succinctly: "Yesterday's minorities have evolved into today's general market, blurring the lines between where one group ends and the other begins. The census will give us the impetus, energy and ammunition we need to no longer have to haggle over dollars allocated to multicultural marketing efforts. Plain and simple, those who do not follow the growth will stay behind."

As a matter of fact, that was the message from the various C-level executives from Procter & Gamble, Fidelity, Time Inc., Coca-Cola and General Mills. Check out this clip from Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills.

Also in attendance were many more senior-level executives from State Farm, McDonald's, Unilever, the USTA and Best Buy, sharing case studies and best practices on how they put their plans to reach multicultural consumers to work for them. For the first time since 2005, I thought we'd reached that "tipping point" where Corporate America is finally getting it.

And yet, I left the conference knowing that those two days were just the same old, same old. I felt like those great messages were somewhat lost because we are still preaching to the converted.

The real problem with elevating the conversation around multicultural marketing and consumers is that we still have no place at the table with the people who really control the bulk of advertising and marketing budgets in this country. Those guys/gals may go to other ANA conferences (like the Masters of Marketing Conference), but they never have and never will come to this conference. And that is the problem. We are still viewed as a ghetto.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love the ANA and totally respect Bob Liodice and all the great people who work on this conference. (In fact, you could substitute ANA for any other number of trade organizations and the same would still be true). So I'm not picking on the ANA. I am just using it as an example. They surely "get it," and most people would agree that they have certainly been instrumental in helping move a multicultural agenda in corporate America. But I think the only way we are going to see real progress is by taking the messages shared at this conference and spreading them to all the other important conferences at the ANA -- and the DMA, the AMA, IMC, Ad:Tech, the 4A's ... I think you get my drift.

So I looked at the schedule of conferences the ANA (just to pick one) is preparing for 2011 and knowing what the Census will reveal and what others are saying about multicultural consumers (Check out this Ad Age White Paper: What the 2010 Census means to Marketing and Advertising), I find it hard to believe that none of the scheduled sessions in the upcoming (Dec. 10) Conference on Mobile Engagement addresses the importance of Hispanic, Asian and African-American consumers. Clearly that must have been an oversight, because numerous reports released this year have focused on how these consumers over-index on use the mobile. Maybe that agenda was set a long time ago, so let's focus on next year.

Surely, multicultural consumers should be part of theTV & Everything Video Forum Presented> by Google on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. After all, they will be talking about TV, video, gaming, social media, etc. -- areas that are clearly dominated by multicultural consumers. But a quick look at the agenda shows me that they are not part of the conversation (although not all panels are set yet). What about the Digital and Social Media Conference planned for July 14, 2011, or dare I mention it, the Masters of Marketing Annual Conference to be held in Phoenix next Oct. 20, 2011?

By then the Census figures will have been out for months and surely the focus of many news stories, but will the ANA step up to the plate and actually have one or more panels specifically deal with perhaps the most important demographic shift this country is experiencing and how it affects what we do in Corporate America? Listen to this clip from Best Buy.

I mean really, how can you be a Master of Marketing and not know much about how to address the growing diversity of this country? To its credit, this year as ANA celebrated its 100th anniversary, it did have one panel about "How to Grow Your Business With Multicultural Consumers" that featured the work of Kraft and Univision, which was truly great. But one session isn't enough. Hopefully, it's just the beginning.

How about moving the Multicultural Conference to Phoenix and adding it to the Masters of Marketing Conference? I mean, the important people will already be in Phoenix and there will be plenty of time left for golf and other fun activities.

Seriously, if we could simply have some more of the high-caliber conversations we had in Miami Beach this year move to the golf course at the Biltmore Hotel next year, we will have accomplished a lot more in Corporate America than 10 more years of separate-but-not-equal multicultural conferences.