An Eye on the Multicultural Future

As readers of this column know, my name is Pamela Parker. What you may not know — and what my name doesn’t reveal — is that I’m Hispanic. My mother’s maiden name was Rodriguez. I’m Mexican-American and have dozens of close family members living in Mexico.

Why should you care? Well, last time I wrote about the so-called Generation Y. Though I don’t think I could get away with claiming to be that young, I do share characteristics with a great number of these teens and young adults by virtue of my ethnic background.

For many marketers the 2000 Census was a wake-up call, revealing the U.S. as incredibly diverse and growing more so. The folks I wrote about last time, the generation coming of age in the next few years, is the most multicultural the nation has ever seen. In something that could be called “The Tiger Woods Phenomenon” (after the Thai/African-American golfer), many are multicultural all by themselves — like me, with my Anglo last name and my Mexican roots.

According to an Interep study, one in three Generation Y members belongs to a minority racial or ethnic group. Of 12- to 19-year-olds, 14.8 percent are black, 14.5 percent Hispanic, 4.0 percent Asian, and 0.2 percent belong to other ethnic groups. The remaining two-thirds are non-Hispanic white.

“Multicultural for youth markets isn’t even about multicultural,” says Omar Wasow, executive director of “Multicultural markets are the new mainstream. If you want to reach anyone in youth markets, your message has to be multicultural at its core.”

Ethnic media organization New California Media, along with researchers Bendixen and Associates, recently completed a survey aimed at determining the role of ethnic media in California — a state that has become an icon of diversity. The study found 66 percent of ethnic Californians believe businesses that advertise in the ethnic media “seem to understand my needs and desires better than other companies.”

When it comes to the new generation of young adults, it may not be as simple as targeting an ad to someone based upon whether they’re Asian or black or Latino. Connecting with someone who grew up in a multicultural world means embracing a diversity of cultures. Wasow points to the popular Levi’s jeans television spot that debuted on this year’s Super Bowl after consumers selected it from several choices that appeared on a specially created microsite. Called “Pacific News Service. “Their biggest fear is winding up alone. They have discovered communication and the power of language and the power to connect. It’s not just that they want to be Oprah at the microphone, it’s that they want to connect with other people.”

The Internet also provides a way for people to connect with companies and brands, and it can actually diminish difficulties marketers face when trying to speak to a diverse group of people.

“Part of the beauty of doing something that’s more participatory is that it puts less of an onus on the marketer to define what’s multicultural,” says Wasow. “Rather than having sort of that demographically correct photo, you allow the audience to tell you what is multicultural.”

In an example from traditional media (and an example how the Internet influences traditional media), Wasow points to a print ad for BMW’s Mini Cooper that appeared in Vibe. It had a picture of the car and a series of stickers allowing people to “customize” the vehicle, a campaign reminiscent of the “design your own car” features de rigueur on every auto site. Rather than try to speak to the audience in a voice it sees as multicultural, Mini allows its own audience to speak.

“Inviting the audience to participate in the creation of the message is something that most traditional marketers resist,” said Wasow. “While it’s particularly relevant for online marketing, it’s clearly — as evidenced by this ad in Vibe — important in traditional media.”

Well, that’s a relief. As a marketer trying to reach this important and diverse generation, you don’t necessarily need to speak its language. Just remember to allow them to express themselves.

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