Where are brands on cultural relevance?

Diverse TV is aligned with the changing make-up of America

A topic of animated conversation at a recent lunch with industry peers, we commented that there’s a clear and undeniable trend among media channels toward culturally-relevant stories that more authentically reflect real life for millions of cross-cultural Americans. Then, an interesting article appears in Sunday’s NY Times, Smaller Screens, Truer Colors – Why Diverse TV Matters which leads to a bigger discussion for the marketing and advertising industry.

Jennifer Lopez, still shot on Shades of Blue, 2016

Jennifer Lopez, still shot on Shades of Blue, 2016

Whether the media’s interest in diversity comes from wanting to “do the right thing” or it’s a way for them to make more money is not really the point in my opinion. What makes this phenomenon more meaningful is that it acknowledges that mainstream TV audiences want their entertainment to be as diverse as they themselves are. This trend should be a wake-up call to brand marketers across the U.S.

Whether White, Latino, Black or Asian, today’s audiences expect to see ethnic diversity in the stories they follow and the shows they watch, simply because that is a true reflection of their lives. For marketers, this is a shift that not only impacts programming but should also influence brand advertising.

Still shot of Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells in Master of None (2015). Photo by KC Bailey/Netflix

Still shot of Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells in Master of None (2015). Photo by KC Bailey/Netflix

As media content is a reflection of the needs and wants of its audiences, brand advertising is no different. Data consistently confirms that ethnic inclusiveness and cultural relevance in advertising deliver meaningful lifts in sales and stronger results across KPI measures such as ad recall and intent to purchase. Yet, it appears that most brands are still stuck in the plain vanilla, unblended generic moments of the Mad Men era. To the not-so-objective observer, it seems that while audiences and the media are embracing diversity in their screens, brands and ad agencies are arriving a bit late to the party. Catch up time!

While ad spending behind the Hispanic market is on the rise, it is still far from its “fair share” relative to population. According to AHAA The Voice of Hispanic Marketing, ad spending in Hispanic media increased by a whopping 63% from 2010-2014 according to Nielsen, but the ratio is still less than 10% of total market ad spend while Hispanic population represents 18% of total and growing.

The more important question is how much of the ad content that’s placed behind the other 90% of dollars, is grounded on real cultural insights? Brands like Cheerios and Campbell’s are good examples of diversity integration in their advertising. Yet, Cheerios is clearly making a stronger statement for cultural relevance in their Healthy Hearts Start Young campaign, while Campbell’s Made for Real, Real Life gets a perfect score for diversity inclusion but falls short on cultural relevance.

Licensed by Dollar Photo Club 2016

Licensed by Dollar Photo Club 2016

Striking the balance between inclusion and cultural relevance is paramount to engagement in a cross-cultural America. It is not enough to show diversity. To be relevant and incite action among cross-cultural consumers brands must address the cultural nuances that influence their behavior and emotions. This can only be achieved through deep consumer understanding and Cultural Linking ℠, a process by which we distill cultural insights and correlate these to a brand’s values to form a strategic, unique and unbreakable link between your brand and your consumer target.

Today’s diverse TV is aligned with the changing make-up of America. Brands must also take the leap before they are left behind in a land of irrelevance and lackluster performance.