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June 17, 2020 // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

This Isn’t a Moment in Time to Address, This is a Future-Facing Strategy

By: Claudia I. Vargas 

The United States remains in collective shock over the killings of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others. We’ve seen this before – the nation witnesses an atrocity, it erupts in outrage, people and brands express support, then the issue disappears as the news cycle moves on.

But this time just feels different.  

The racial and social justice movements have intersected at this moment in time, creating a siren’s call to dismantle racism in the United States. Society demands change, and we will not back down.

Recently, hundreds of Black advertising professionals signed an open letter demanding urgent action from agency leadership to tackle racism within the industry. Brands have joined the movement, donating and pledging to change and do better.  Industry titans Nike, McDonalds and Target, have all committed to diversifying their workforce.

However, words and promises mean nothing if companies forget their pledges after a few months pass.  

This isn’t a campaign to do this month and maybe even next month. Brands need to create long-term, future-facing strategies. Multicultural awareness and marketing must be part of a brand’s permanent strategy.

But the fact remains, brands that go in haphazardly or ham-fistedly can do more harm than good – to themselves and with their audiences. Those who do it well can reap the rewards and make a difference socially. Consumers are 50% more likely to repurchase from a brand and 2.8 times more likely to recommend a brand that uses culturally relevant ads, Marketing Dive noted

Brands must be genuine, take a clear stand and get their messaging right, because the American people easily spot pandering and already harbor a mistrust when brands get political, as The Atlantic reported recently

“…It has never been clearer than right now that brands aren’t your friend, when social media is awash in videos of riots and humans being assaulted, in the middle of a global pandemic,” it said. “American brands have rushed to show where they stand, but it’s still uncertain what they intend to offer – what they can offer – beyond greater awareness of their existence and a vague sense of virtue.”  

Clearly, brands must do more than just talk. They must take real action even though it may feel like a big leap to jump into sensitive topics, such as racism, especially for brands that haven’t addressed the issues before. Yet, many brands don’t realize they already have the know-how. 

Any campaign worth its salt starts with research and finds a golden nugget that consumers can identify with. The same way advertisers know how to differentiate how to speak to a mother versus a CEO or a B2B client versus a B2C is the same logic that should be applied to speaking to various cultures. It’s listening, doing research and learning consumer behavior so messaging and content resonate. But it’s also making sure you have a diverse workforce that brings to the table a deep understanding of the various cultures and how to connect authentically.  

If you toggle between enough brand websites, you’ll notice that in one way or another they all claim to be engrained in their community or a good community partner. But it’s time for them to – pardon the bluntness – put up or shut up. And not just right now. They need to add long-term multicultural campaigns to their strategies moving forward.  

Not only is it the morally right thing for brands to do, it’s the smart business thing to do.  

“Multicultural consumers make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population,” MarTech Advisor reported. “Yet, only 5% of the total advertising and marketing spends is directed toward them.” 

Research shows time and again, consumers want to feel represented and see people just like them. Why do you think we have so many different Barbies now? It’s time for more ads to be part of the solution – representation for all people! So why don’t more brands get on board? 

Sometimes bringing on multicultural extensions to campaigns can feel like an unreachable thing. Yes, it demands more cultural insights, which in turn also demands diverse account leads who can build strategic campaigns that break through. But like everything else going on right now, the worst thing brands can do is nothing. The best thing brands can do is add multicultural campaigns to their long-term strategies. 

At Allison+Partners, our guiding principle is “Insights into action.” It’s how we kick off every campaign. We work closely with our Research + Insights team to understand where our consumers are and their demographics and psychographics. In parallel, we work with our digital team to listen to the conversation online. From all those insights, we learn how to speak to consumers in a way that matters to them and pivot that into actionable campaign messaging and tactics. Then with our Play it Forward offering, we test concepts with a sample of the target audience to ensure our messages are received as intended. The process doesn’t change for our multicultural efforts. In fact, they get an added layer of review.

Our teammates set us apart. We have resources across the globe to represent and add a layer of cultural relevance and cultural insight. Our diversity board is made up of professionals from a variety of cultures with experience working specifically in the multicultural space. We leverage their insights across our work.  

We have colleagues who talk to the Spanish language media almost daily. We have people who work with groups within the Native American community to help push their goals forward. We have teams who put on events with influencers of the African American, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities. We have teammates who create campaigns in Europe and in Asia, sharing insights we can easily leverage here in the U.S. The work we do for these brands has allowed them to align themselves with these groups, and they have benefited from not only awareness but have become part of those communities.

We feel it’s our responsibility to continue to remind brands of the power of tapping into the multicultural audience, not only from a business perspective but also from a social responsibility perspective. And we plan to leverage our experience to do a better job in the multicultural arena. 

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Claudia Vargas serves as a Director of Integrated Marketing, bringing a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programs, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated client projects for the agency, connecting the dots to drive results. 


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