• November 6, 2007
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Marketers Make the World Their Multicultural Oyster

BOCA RATON, FLA. -- As evidenced by the first day of the 2007 ANA Multicultural Marketing Conference here early this week, multicultural customers are forcing a "marketing reinvention," according to Bob Liodice, the ANA's chief executive officer. By factoring in multiculturalism, marketing is "elevating the conversation," according to keynote emcee Gilbert Davila, who set the fun tone of a serious discussion by joking about his height: "Now, if they could have brought me a stool, we could be on our way," said Davila, the vice president of multicultural marketing for The Walt Disney Co. Marketing is at its best when it engages the consumer, Davila said, and that conversation has to embrace the ever-expanding multicultural audience -- and adapt to an ever-changing consumer landscape.

During the presentation by keynote speaker William Lamar, chief marketing officer of McDonald's USA, it became clear that even a corporation as large as McDonald's can lose its way by failing to focus on the basics.

At first, Lamar said, McDonald's was more focused on profits than it was on people -- and structured the company accordingly, designing operations intended to make more money, rather than appealing directly to consumer demand and allowing profits to flow naturally. Making matters worse, McDonald's also became "arrogant," Lamar recalled. "Everyone says, 'We have our way of doing things,' and all that's garbage," he told the audience. That level of intransigence doesn't fly in a world of shifting consumer demands. Your customers are going to change, Lamar warned -- if you don't change with them, you'll be left behind. Lamar also noted the fast-food chain's final flaw: The company became complacent, and believed it could ride on the momentum of past success. "When you think [success] is guaranteed, that's a problem," Lamar said.

The overall lesson for the 400 marketers in attendance here was that individual consumers should not be treated as uniform. (Even discrete communities can always be segmented further, given additional parameters.) The presenters at the ANA conference hammered home the point: We function as part of a society, and cultural issues are often a significant factor in our self-identification. McDonald's is a global corporation -- which means, by definition, the brand serves a multicultural customer base. As such, the company has had to create marketing campaigns that resonate with each community without sacrificing the consistency of the overall brand. As an example, the fast-food company's current "I'm lovin' it" campaign is printed on the side of many of its food containers -- but translated into multiple languages, from English to Mandarin Chinese.

However, just like individuals, different cultures continue to want better, more relevant advertising. Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, vice president of diversity marketing and sales development at Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB), told the audience about a statement made by a colleague of hers: "We have to kill 'SALY,' " the colleague said, referring to the "Same As Last Year" mentality that dooms many marketing efforts. In other words, Perkins-Roberts told the crowd, what worked last year won't necessarily work today or tomorrow. In that sense, catering to a multicultural audience no longer means simply creating commercials in different languages or casting ethnic actors and actresses. Instead, marketers need to utilize cultural insight with a better understanding of demographic information, segmentation, and acculturation.

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