Total Market – Good or Bad?

It’s just smart marketing. Would you spend 90% of your budget on effectively engaging with just 27% of the audience? Or would you spend 90% of your budget on connecting at a deeper level with 72% of your audience? That is what’s happening every day in marketing. In places like Los Angeles County, where 72% of the population is Hispanic, African American or Asian American, marketers are taking broad strokes and spending about 90% of their budget on strategies, creative and tactics that may work in the general market, but miss the deeper connections with the multicultural audience. But, you say, this is where “Total Market” comes into the picture.


“Total Market” is the newest strategy on how to effectively reach a multicultural target that has even a little bit of general market tendency (we can also call them “bicultural”). “Total Market” is also the four-letter word for traditional Multicultural agencies, because many think brands now have a rationale to let the general market agency lead the strategy and do most of the work while only checking off with multicultural.


So how did we get here? Is this the demise of the “Traditional” multicultural agency?


In the early years, multicultural agencies demanded to be heard. We speak a different language, they shouted, so we deserve some budget. Many times, brands responded by finding a “Hispanic guy” at their company to do their Hispanic marketing. Sad, but true. Translations abounded. The attitude became, Take what we do for general market and translate it. Done. We now do Hispanic marketing. But, wait, it’s not about the language. It’s about the cultural cues. As time passed, the argument became, It was not ok to just translate, but to transcreate. There are cultural cues and, no, you can’t find them on Mintel or Simmons; you need to have Hispanic or African American creative that reflects these cultural cues. The irony here is that as more money started to flow into Hispanic marketing agencies to address the “Not just Translate but Transcreate” approach, African American marketing budgets began to see a steady decline, since the perception was, with limited multicultural client budgets, there wasn’t a language barrier and we could reach African Americans with the General Market creative. It is ironic because if it were REALLY about the cultural cues, well, African American marketing budgets should have stayed healthy. But they didn’t, even when the African American population is just as strong as the Hispanic population and their cultural cues are just as unique and distinct. African American budgets have steadily declined. BUT, we now have “Total Market.” So we should be covered there as well, right?


So today, recognizing that the Multicultural audience doesn’t live in a vacuum, and Hispanic/African American media consumption habits may in fact expand beyond Univision and BET, the market has created a “Total Market” solution. That is to say, let’s work to create a singular approach that appeals to a broad spectrum and maximizes our limited budgets. Early on (meaning last year), Multicultural agencies balked, saying this is not the right approach and our distinct culture needs a distinct strategy. They balked because, on the client side, the Multicultural budgets were not being separated and General Market brand stewards were asked to see their targets as Total Market, not separately as Hispanic, African American, Asian American and General Market.


Most opponents of “Total Market” are not fighting for some sort of Multicultural righteousness, but for their budget. I understand. Multicultural budgets justify having a Multicultural agency. I’ve led one and fought that good fight. What those opponents fail to see is “Total Market” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s about smart marketing. What I mean is, when formulating a marketing strategy, the ethnicity and cultural upbringing is just another value in the planning process that needs to be accounted for when trying to connect with your target at the deeper level our clients are asking for from us. We all need to have a little multicultural marketer in us, much like we all need to have a little digital marketer in us. Yes, agencies have dedicated experts who can dig even deeper, but “Total Market” strategy, if done properly, should be led by the insights. If the insights dictate a multicultural-led approach, the work should follow suit. Agency evolution will eventually determine who actually does the work and effectively wins in the long run. However, it’s going to be the agencies who change with the times, and in these times, we have very real demographic shifts in our country that need to be addressed with our marketing in order for brands to be category leaders.


Brands are addressing this shift. Some of the top brands have taken the approach of having a multicultural strategist who then advises the brand managers, sometimes even leading the “general market” strategy, on how to make sure they are effectively reaching their multicultural target. Brands and agencies just need to be very aware of who they need to target and be prepared to lead with Multicultural cues in their overall strategy, when it makes the most sense. This doesn’t mean alienate the “general market,” and also allows the brand to connect at that deeper level with the larger audience.


One day, all marketers will have a little salsa in their blood, and Multicultural will need to be included in everything we do and, in many cases, leading the charge … Because it’s just smart marketing.

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