Is Total Market the End of the Multicultural Advertising Agency?

In an Advertising Week panel discussion, industry experts explore if the end of the multicultural agency is near

(Image: Photo cred – Kali Wilder)

Inequality in the advertising industry is nothing new, especially to multicultural agencies.

Over the years, there have been many conversations, from the trades to online exchanges and panels, delving into the numbers and personal stories that chronicle the discrimination many face in regard to both race and gender in the industry. And that inequality can be reflected in the marketing efforts to consumers.

In recent years, there has been a shift from brands engaging with multicultural agencies for marketing to specific segments to companies adopting a “total market” attitude. In theory, the idea of the total market makes marketing to a multicultural audience a business imperative for the company overall, shifting from the various segmenting of the past.

While some are pro total market and see it as a way to balance the field, others deem it threatening to the state of multicultural agencies today. In an Advertising Week panel discussion, “Total Market: the End of the Multicultural Agency,” industry experts explored the reasons behind the varying opinions.

Aaron Walton, co-founder and partner of Walton Isaacson, a BE 100s ad agency with 2015 revenues of $93 million, believes that the term total market is an oversimplification. “As brand stewards, if we are truly interested in listening to brand supporters, we need to honor cultures,” says Walton. “I think advertisers marginalizing culture is a mistake. It assumes that we all think and act alike. We are not alike.”

President of GroupM Multicultural, Gonzalo Del Fa, has a slightly different opinion. “As experts, if multicultural is mainstream, we cannot be separate. We need to sit down at the table, bring value, knowledge and integrate. Total market is not the right word but we need to understand commonalities and nuance, and we need to do it together.”

“Total market feels like ‘Columbusing.’ Multicultural agencies have always been appealing,” says Tiffany Warren, chief diversity officer for Omnicom and founder of ADCOLOR. “Many of the multicultural agencies have appealed to total market by creating work that appeals to America.”

The panel agreed that the term “general market” comes along with baggage based on its past of excluding or limited authentic multicultural marketing.

“There is no such thing as multicultural money,” says Marc Strachan, vice president, Corporate Relations and Constituent Affairs, USA for Diageo-North America. Strachan emphasizes the perspective of a general marketer. “Am I getting my fair share of the consumer audience to drive business forward? If multicultural leads in consumption and economic, why shouldn’t I go that way first? If I’m a general market agency, I don’t want that revenue going out the door. So I get a few experts.”

Strachan also feels multicultural agencies need to control the conversation around defining total market, particularly in regards to the inequity in business. He adds, “Agencies have to get more aggressive.”

Walton agrees. “It’s a land grab for general market agencies that don’t acknowledge the multicultural impact of their brands.

He explains that agencies need a deep cultural understanding of what motivates people. “When marginalized, [what happens] to the expertise of agencies who’ve spent years cultivating that? When we started, we wanted to face the world the way the world faced us. We knew if we were honest, it would drive innovation.”

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