Who Took Culture Out of the Marketing Equation?


In 2015, many marketing industry leaders were quick to jump on the “Total Market” bandwagon for the sake of efficiency, but at the expense of being culturally relevant.

They may have created a more efficient and streamlined approach to marketing solutions, but ignoring culture at a point when it is more important than ever before could prove to be a recipe for failure.

Decades of proven marketing success and countless case studies validating the ROI of in-culture marketing are being cast aside.

the marketing equation

A Shifting Pendulum

In my almost three decades as a multicultural marketing professional, I have seen the pendulum swing from stand-alone dedicated multicultural efforts, to integrating them into the brand and marketing infrastructure, and back again. Regardless of how a company is organized, the importance it gives to diverse cultures when marketing its products will determine the organization’s success, especially in today’s multicultural marketplace.

Language vs. Cultural Nuances

Having worked in Corporate America and with top Fortune 500 companies on the agency side, I’ve seen firsthand the resulting sales declines when companies have reduced marketing efforts to the lowest-common denominator, rather than going deeper to connect in culturally relevant ways.

Marketers may think they can reach Latinos and other segments as part of the mainstream “Total Market”; however, there is a big difference between reaching Latinos and winning their loyalty.

Federico Subervi, Ph.D., former professor at the Center for the Study of Latino Media & Markets at Texas State University, said it best: “You can reach everybody in a common language, but you get to their heart through their culture.”

If you’re going to speak to a group from a particular culture, it’s pretty obvious that you have to understand what’s important to them, and to respect and appreciate their experiences and history. 

That simply can’t be done if you reduce everything to some sort of amorphous mainstream “Total Market.” 

The New Mainstream

Today more than ever, people wear their culture with pride. That’s a long distance from how it was when I was growing up and attending a high school in San Antonio, Texas, that was 98 percent Hispanic. Back then, if we were caught speaking Spanish in the hallways, we were sent to detention.

The mainstream is now multicultural. Taking culture out of the conversation for efficiency’s sake is not the answer.  

Companies that are bold enough to embrace and lead with culture to effectively reach the mainstream are the ones that will win.  They understand that to engage today’s consumer, they must elevate the role of culture-based insights and ideas into their brand experience.

Latinos, African Americans, Asians and other segments in the U.S. live in two worlds. We will buy, support, and spread the word about brands that recognize that living in America gives us our wings, but our culture gives us our roots, foundation and soul.