This has been the year of the debate over the “Total Market” approach. The idea is to find a common denominator that different cultural groups can all relate to. That makes some sense at first glance. After all, most people love their children, enjoy being free, enjoy food and other good things of life.
So, finding an insight that would resonate with most people is possible. But let us think again about the nature of marketing and advertising. What brands want is to establish deep connections with consumers, at a level that the consumer feels like the brand understands them uniquely.
So, while the notion of finding a common denominator may be appealing for the good reason of realizing economies of scale and having a great reach, the brand connection may be lost. Why? Because while we all love our children, the meaning is different across cultural groups. It would be trivial to say that because children are generally loved by their parents, life insurance, for example, could be sold across the board for the sake of the love “you have for your children.” This positioning would not be ownable. And even if it were, the specifics of how Hispanic parents think of their children or their future compared with African Americans, Asians and non-Hispanic Whites would be more powerful than a more general approach. To mind comes the example of the insurance company that had a picture of a girl in her “quinceañera” dress as a reminder of the dreams the parents have for her. That is a very culturally specific message that would not cut across cultures, but that would be more powerful than a general message in reaching Latinos.
Cultural marketing is about connecting the consumer at the level of their cultural traditions and archetypes. Culture is more than interesting idiosyncrasies. Culture is the passed on set of tools for living that humans have found to work in different social contexts. Even when these tools cease to be effective, we humans tend to keep them close to our heart as they are the elements which define who we are. So, for example, fatalism. In a better organized and more predictable society fatalism would not be an effective way of coping with life. Nevertheless, it stays with members of a culture for generations regardless of their geographic and social movement over time.
Cultural marketing consists in understanding those tools for living that are mostly implicit in people's heads and that dictate how they view the world. Ethnographic and other qualitative studies can uncover many of these regularities that marketers can use to better communicate their products, brands, and services. Finding a powerful cultural cue can establish a deep relationship with consumers over many generations. Consider “sonrisas Colgate” or the Colgate toothpaste smiles that have transcended from Latin America to the United States following the descendents of Latinos. The popularity of Colgate toothpaste among Hispanics continues to be strong and much of it has been passed on from generation to generation.
A “total market” approach should not be an excuse for not attempting to establish a strong long lasting link with culturally diverse consumers. It can be detrimental. Cultural marketing is the new marketing. It goes beyond ethnicity to encompass the many different lifestyles that consumers hold dear.