Steve Stoute – Omniculturalism in 2020

Steve Stoute, Founder/CEO, Translation

QUESTION:  What could/should advertising look like in 2020?  What do we need to do now to prepare for this future?

First, lets start by recognizing that technology is an x-factor advancing so quickly that there is great potential for the methods of delivering advertising messages to change significantly.  While at present we do not know what these formats will be, I’d rather focus on what we can prognosticate about consumers and how the change in the consumer landscape will ultimately impact brands, the message (content) and the messengers (agencies) in a way that will be more profound than digital.

Omniculturalism Will Catalyze the Largest Shift in Marketing Since Digital

Looking at the growth of Hispanics in the United States from 2000-2010 and their projected growth of 147% by 2050 (from 2010-2050), we will be on our way to having the most racially diverse US population ever by 2020 1.  For the first time, there were more non-Caucasian babies born in the US in 2010 2.  As well, there is an increasing trend of interracial marriage; 1-in-7 marriages are currently interracial, and the resulting offspring, by the very nature of being poly-ethnic, will contribute to a cultural “melding” 2.  More than just racial mixing, this is going to produce what I call ‘omniculturals’, people of any or many particular races whose cultural values are not aligned to a box that they can check on any form.  These consumers will be more defined by economic and educational attainment, lifestyle interests and activities that will not be templates of our current in-going assumptions of particular racial groups.   Whatever physical appearance they may have, they will have shared ‘mental complexions’.

Omniculturalism is certainly going to change how we define demography, but blending cultures and ethnicities in this manner also changes the psychographics of the consumer base.   And perhaps most significantly, the rise of omniculturalism will greatly impact and challenge traditionally held culture based consumer choices and decisions in almost every single category of product, good and service sector in this country.

Why is this important?

Traditionally, marketers have used quantitative and qualitative data to find consumer-marketing opportunities through a targeted media approach. Terms like “African-American 18-34 year olds,” “Second Generation Hispanics” and “General Market Women” are utilized to define specific messaging approaches and appeal strategies designed to connect with affinity to these groups, but mainly as a method of media investment.  By 2020, however, exactly who the target is will be more elusive than ever.  While these groups will no longer fail to exist, omniculturalism will drive marketers to think about connecting to consumers beyond ethnic categorization.  For example, we already see that in many cases, an African-American earning $75,000 a year has more in common with a Caucasian earning $75,000 a year than an African-American in a higher income bracket and an African-American in a lower income bracket.  Thus, brands will have to become more defined by the values that they wish to connect to consumers regardless of race and become far more invested in connecting to cultures of people – not races of people.  In short, mental complexions will become the new epicenter of brand engagement.

So the points-of-inception in our messaging must evolve beyond thinking about customizing communications to demographic targets and align to cultural ideas around consumers through more fundamental systems of beliefs, which engage large audiences of support. Culture is not race; culture supersedes race.

Agencies will need to reflect this diversity as well.

By 2020, we should be seeing the death of the multicultural agency model.  Even today, it is not necessary to have these silo businesses that collaborate to contribute to the client whole.  I would argue that Wieden and Kennedy is perhaps one of the best African-American advertising agencies in the United States.  Obviously, Wieden and Kennedy does not profess to be an African-American advertising agency, but the groundbreaking work that they have consistently produced for Nike and the Jordan brand has cemented iconic products into the culture of young urban teens – notably, the Air Jordan sneaker franchise.  Yes, the Jordan brand features an array of African-American athletes, but that underscores the point that the best creative and most convincing product campaigns do not have to be born from an African-American specialty agency, rather an agency that integrates the perspectives of African-Americans into key roles drives greater business success.  I predict that the specialty shops will become less of a necessity, and their argument for stand-alone existence will greatly diminish in light of omniculturalism.  To this end, all agencies should be thinking across cultural categories.  They should have thought leadership in all aspects of American life with specific expertise toward the rare cases when ethnicity will be perhaps the most important strategic consideration (e.g. personal care products formulated for specific skin and hair) or when long-standing cultural biases will be necessary to unearth during the “insights” phase of the strategic planning process.   However clients are inefficiently spending against these confederations of agencies to specialize in attuning simple human truths to gain market-share from specific ethnic groups when that investment could be more effectively targeted through other methodologies that are broader and inclusive.

While 2020 is not far off from today, the pace at which our culture is changing will have such broad and sweeping implications to marketing that it will be truly an opportunity for innovative thinkers and new ideas to flourish.  And as long as we remain focused on understanding and anticipating the needs marketing fulfills toward consumer choices and purchases, I remain confident that ours will be an industry that will continue to thrive.

Source: 1Nielsen State of the Hispanic Consumers, 2012

Source:  2U.S. Census Bureau Population Projections