Chasing the Diaspora: basic ideas for multicultural advertising

I thought I would write a series over the next five days on topics that are pertinent to a multicultural marketing and advertising effort. As an African-American consumer who is also a Latina, I thought I could shed some light on the cultural forces that drive my purchase patterns. As a creative marketer, I thought I’d share my approach.

Idea 1: Be honest. Be real. Speak to my experience or need.

Your product or service does not need to be combined with a civil rights lesson or be so equally balanced that the only thing different in the ad is the skin color. The whole experience should be focused on authentic believable experiences to get my interest. People want to see themselves and remember what they had not be reminded of what they didn’t have. My grandmother was a great cook. She could bake wonderfully. She didn’t own a Kitchen Aid mixer.

My mother was born in Youngstown, Ohio in a working class African-American family of eight children. She was a teenager during the civil rights movement. She raised her children to understand the struggle of the time and to be appreciative of the life we were now able to lead. My father was born in Kingston Jamaica to a Cuban woman and her Jamaican military husband. He was one of 14 children. I spent half the summer with my grandmothers. Everything I needed to learn about civil struggle I learned from my parents and grandparents. Therefore, I don’t need a civil rights lesson in your marketing approach.

But I do want people to be able to show me why your product appeals to my natural cultural biases. Yes, I said biases! I have them, we all do. Think for a moment the first time you sliced a tomato. How did you do it? Most likely, you did it the way your mother or grandmother did it. Lengthwise wedges or horizontal slices, the images from the kitchen you spent the most time in are what you rely on.  This is how I shop and cook. Images from the kitchens I spent the most time in. This sounds logical I’m sure.

Picture this familiar image. A large expensive appliance laden kitchen impeccably decorated and a wholesome, often Caucasian, grandmother baking. There are catch phrases “just like grandma used to make” This imagery doesn’t usually draw me in. While I cooked with my grandmothers our spaces weren’t as grand, but they were clean and filled with love. The food was flavorful and the kitchen was rarely an empty large space but crowded and full of activity. One aunt at the sink washing collard greens another at the table cutting up blocks of cheddar cheese for the macaroni and cheese, still another  at a counter whipping up a Jell-O mold. This was no holiday scene it was just Sunday dinner. Everyone in that kitchen looked like me and knew where I fit in. I was usually at the table snapping the ends off fresh green beans. This is the time when the phrases like “we’ve always done it this way” come to good use.

So If I wanted to transform this ad into one targeted at a specific Diaspora here are the basic things I would do.

  • Change the people in the kitchen. Let your target market see themselves in your ad. If their kitchens are crowded, add more people. Let the children scurry around and get in trouble for licking the spoon!
  • Change the product use and make it authentic. While one mother uses Crisco to grease and flour a baking pan, my African-American Grandmother used Crisco to make the world’s greatest fried chicken. My Cuban cousins use it to fry Yucca.
  • Make the surroundings authentic. My grandmother’s kitchen was the center of my universe, but there was no Bosch dishwasher. In the summer, I was the dishwasher. It is not insulting to respect the reality of people’s childhood memories. Very few working class families have restaurant style refrigerators and freezers. My grandmother certainly didn’t, but you could eat off her floors!
  • Don’t be afraid to do it differently. While we are all equal, our experiences are not the same. Don’t put your marketing and advertising through the race-neutralizing filter. It will offend your target market. If you don’t recognize and appreciate the differences, it sends a subtle message that there is something wrong with different.



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