Don’t Let Politics… Nor Ad Agency Culture… Drive Your Brand Marketing

Many of those who know me and many of those who work with me know that I am not a person who can simply sit on the sidelines and refrain from interacting with others.

I find that interacting with people outside of the conventional business environment — including the home offices — helps better understand market trends vs. what I hear about through trade pubs and media outlets.

That interaction helps bring a sense of market reality to client leadership teams.

In conducting one of those on-the-street interviews back early Spring, a person made an off-handed comment that they were very surprised at “how many Millennials are building diverse families.”

I quickly asked what that phrase, “diverse families” meant. Part of me was certain that they were talking about gay and lesbian families.

As many know, I am gay and have been out all my life.

Instead, the person went on to further comment, “the ethnically mixed families… the ones that I see now in all those ads.”

Let me qualify right up front… I have great respect for creative folks.

As much as I often come to the table with “grounding constraints” that help to better define audience groups, the brand experience and brand competition, I am always the first in line to remove constraints that stifle creative thought.

My gut was telling me the source of this diversity was not coming from the creative teams.

After that person made the comment, I pursued the commentary made with other individuals… consumers, client management and ad agency leadership.

The client management and agency leadership made note that this “blending of cultural groups” just might be “even more of a significant trend than the Millennials birthing babies.”

Over the last couple of months since then, I have explored the issue more with real people out and about in the world at-large.

And what is actually taking place is startling… even to the point of where I wave some bright neon yellow flags that I hope clients see.

In some ways what is happening does not shock me.

I have to remind myself that the ad agencies — the conventional ones and digital ones — are not really good client agents nor market representatives.

Many of them are struggling to keep those hip and high style doors open.

Some factoids about the ad agencies…

(1) More than half of the ad agencies are still located in New York, Chicago and LA

(2) Another third are located in the bohemian neighborhoods found in cities like Portland, Seattle, Boston, Austin and Miami

(3) Most of those working at these agencies also live in the immediate, intown neighborhoods

(4) Nearly 80% of those working in day-to-day account service … telling the creative teams what the clients want to see … are less than 35 years old… with more than half younger than 30 years old

(5) Many agencies are “doers” and “executors” today based on whatever client leadership asks them to do

Many Client CEOs face daily threats — investor, endorsement and even personal ones — to be “politically-correct” in how they communicate and advertise their brands.

Just in the past week, I have seen…

(1) A Casper ad of an African-American-White couple asleep in Casper bed

(2) An ad for Tide detergent featuring an African-American-White couple doing their laundry together

(3) A Subaru ad of an African-American-White couple driving out to do some hiking

(4) An African-American-White couple in a Behr paint ad

(5) An Old Navy ad of a mixed African-American-White family

(6) A Hyundai ad featuring a White husband, African American wife and mix-race kids

(7) A State Farm ad showcasing a young couple getting engaged — he being African American and she being White

(8) And perhaps the best of all… a Wayfair ad featuring a gay couple and their kids … one dad being White and one Ddd being African-American and one kid being White and one kid being African-American

There is a news article that appeared in the NY Times two weeks ago about “building diversity in marketing.”

It quotes the CEO of an ad agency — Mark Jones of Mark Jones Advertising — in Seattle Washington as saying, “We are getting our clients to reflect multi-culturalism in their ads. It’s a conscious decision. We are trying to represent America.”

It also quotes Dr. Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at Pace University in New York sharing, “It’s the brands wanting to let customers know they are listening and sensitive to many of whom are not Caucasian.”

Dr. Larry then goes on to say, “And part of it is not wanting to be called out by some activists as being oblivious to people of color.”

At least Dr. Larry is honest.

Pew Research released a set of new 2020 U.S. Census reports that 10.1% of all the married couples in the U.S. are “inter-racial” and that includes Hispanics-Latinos in its counts.

The report also notes that the 2020 percentage is actually down from 15.1% reported in the 2010 U.S. Census report.

The new 2020 U.S. Census numbers break down the 10.1% further…

** 43.3% are White-Hispanic couples

** 14.4% are White-Asian-Indian couples

** 11.9% are White-Black couples

** 12.4% are Black-Hispanic couples

** 6.3% are Black-Asian-Indian couples

** 5.7% are Hispanic-Asian-Indian couples

Before writing this report, I got in my car and went out and chatted with some couples. I even tried to locate a few “multi-cultural” couples and in all honesty, had no luck in finding any.

The next day, I got back in my car and went into Midtown and Westside Atlanta where there has historically been a lot of diversity.

No luck.

A commentary I consistently heard those I interviewed say… “I have a diverse group of friends and at least among my friends, we do not have any who are coupled with someone of a different culture or race.”

Another message I also consistently heard… “I see a lot of ads today featuring a white husband or wife coupled with a black husband and wife and I just tune those commercials out.”

Most of those making that comment are not the White folks I interviewed.

I started writing this blog at a coffee house. A black couple sat at a table next to mine working on their Apple MacBooks. They appeared to be married to one another and they appeared to be in their early 30s.

We got to chatting some and they shared that they were both PhDs at the University of Georgia … one was with the linguistics department and the other with the business college.

When I asked them about multi-culturalism and commercials, they quickly shared that they found the ads to be “totally out-of-touch with reality.”

They went on to share that some of their students shared the same thing and that their students told them that they “tune the advertising out every time now that they see it.”

No question that there are brands that have built an equity around progressive platforms. Subaru and Apple are perhaps two of those brands that champion it in just who they are.

An insurance company, clothing detergent and paint brand… I think not.

I am passionate about brand marketing embrace its customers and the emotional experience that the customers seek to embrace.

As I have shared in this blog multiple times over the last 12 months… consumers are very tired of politics as well as what others define for them as being socially “right.”

Brands that believe in embracing multi-culturalism are spending a lot of money.

I am placing no bets on the table right now that the spending is going to yield much of any return regardless if those partnered customers of those brands are black, brown, yellow, white, red, purple of any rainbow color inbetween.

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.