Multicultural Marketing Under President Trump

What: Multicultural marketers are regrouping (and doing some soul searching) as Donald Trump gets comfortable in the Oval Office.
Why It Matters: Will brands embrace shy away from or embrace controversy in the Trump era? And will Multicultural marketers be able to protect their seat at the table, or will brands shift toward Total Market?

Donald Trump’s victory came as a surprise to many, and almost nobody was as surprised as Multicultural marketers who assumed that Latino voters were sure to tip the election in favor of Hillary Clinton. When the election went the other way, Hispanic marketers in particular were left wondering what this meant about the demographic they thought they understood so well, and just how much power and influence they truly wield on a national level. Now, they must find a way forward in an already fragile industry.

Trump Won. What Now? 

In hindsight, almost everyone can agree that multicultural marketers and media professionals were overly confident in a Hillary Clinton win. Now that everyone is over the shock, they are left wondering why it happened, and whether Latino demographics are as predictable as they thought they were.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, brings a supporter up on stage because he liked her sign as Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Latinos did not turn out to vote as many predicted they would, and a higher percentage voted for Trump than most anticipated. His anti-immigration talk was met with resistance, but in a country where a significant group of Latinos have been living legally in the country for generations, many did not feel that Trump was speaking ill of them when he talked about the danger of bad hombres. Others were drawn to him because of his opposition to abortion or a sense that he was less corrupt than Clinton. In an election that defied reason to many, putting the pieces together afterwards is a challenge.

The million dollar question is: How does behavior in the voting booth translate into consumer behavior? Multicultural marketers need to admit that in this case, they may not have all the answers. What is certain is that Trump has not gotten any less controversial since assuming office, and many Americans are demanding to know where their favorite brands stand in such a heated political climate. The brands cannot hide for the next four years.

The fact that Trump could have won despite his openly aggressive tone toward the country’s largest minority group has many wondering how much Americans truly embrace diversity. Multicultural marketers must take the lead in guiding brands that want to elevate Multicultural perspectives, but this starts with some soul-searching.

Unease in an Already Fragile Business 

In such a heated political context, many brands are expected to grow hesitant of embracing Multicultural themes in their messaging. A marketing professional from a multinational food manufacturing company that preferred not to be named predicted that depending on brands’ shoppers and how traditional they are, many will not wish to attract attention for political statements.

The insider continued to say that a Trump presidency would reveal brands’ true colors, and “separate the companies that are really serious about multicultural from the ones that are not.” And many of the brands that embrace Multicultural will keep the tone positive instead of combative, she asserted, aiming for inclusive messages, “while the latter will probably keep some multicultural in market activation, but will back away from controversial messages.”

Multicultural is more fragile because its harder to demonstrate success, and there is less precision in metrics and more diseconomies of scale. Any major change in the mindset of brands, companies or the general environment has a greater impact on what we do.

As Multicultural agencies looks for answers, general sense of unease spreads quickly due to a variety of factors. Roberto Siewczynski, the SVP and Group President at global marketing company Epsilon, explained that Multicultural "is more fragile because its harder to demonstrate success, and there is less precision in metrics and more diseconomies of scale.”

CHECK OUT: Trumped? How the Election could impact Multicultural Marketing

Any major event, like the polemic Trump presidency, can affect the attitudes of brands enough to shift budgets towards other market activations and put agencies in a precarious position. Siewczynski continued: “Any major change in the mindset of brands, companies or the general environment has a greater impact on what we do.”

Education, Advocacy Essential

But others in the industry seem to be more optimistic, pushing for a continued effort to educate brands and colleagues alike on the importance of speaking to a variety of unique audiences and demographics. The marketing industry has made slow but steady progress in terms of prioritizing multicultural audiences and themes, and those that have been working in this fragile industry do not want to see any of their work undone.

Suggesting that the industry should take an active role in encouraging brands to invest in Multicultural, Executive Vice President of Advertising Sales at Hemisphere Media Group, Inc. Lucia Ballas-Traynor highlighted the importance of continuing education, including a need for policy advocates within the industry, saying, “Our industry needs to get involved.”

The content, images and rhetoric that our industry promotes must celebrate Latin culture and people and we must continue to educate everyone (and ourselves) on the issues and policies that affect the Latino community before we enter the discussion and take action.

Beyond considering Latinos as consumers, Multicultural professionals need “to be able to speak intelligently about them and to be part of an organization that focuses on advocating for our community.” Ballas-Traynor, who is on the Board at the Hispanic Federation, emphasized that the industry as a whole “must educate itself on the issues and policies that affect the Latino community before we enter the discussion and take action.”

In this sense, even the brands that want to steer clearer of controversy can "contribute to the conversation that Trump’s Presidency and his policies have generated on issues that affect the Latino community such as immigration and border security...in a way that is unified, productive and positive," Hemisphere Group's Ballas-Traynor said.

'Be a Beacon or Go Into the Shadows'

If the Super Bowl was any indication, 2017 has already revealed a number of brands that are clearly embracing the opportunity to connect with Multicultural audiences feeling threatened by President Trump’s rhetoric. Companies like Budweiser, Google, Audi and Airbnb all took clear stances on issues that have become central in President Trump's first days, like the border wall with Mexico and gender equality.

Brands (and companies) are at crossroads, they have to decide if they want to be a beacon or go into the shadows when it comes to building meaningful and emotional connections with multicultural consumers.

“The Super Bowl was an interesting point in time when you think about what has happened,” Epsilon SVP Siewczynski argued. “Brands (and companies) are at crossroads, they have to decide if they want to be a beacon or go into the shadows when it comes to building meaningful and emotional connections with multicultural consumers.”

And Siewczynski also argued that we should wait and see how President Trump’s policies actually affect key demographics like Hispanics. In a recent piece, he argued that after Trump’s election, “labor-intensive segments that have large Latino participation” rallied. If Trump follows through on keeping jobs in America, the Hispanic American could end up with more disposable income and greater prosperity.

As Multicultural marketing professionals regroup after this unprecedented election, positivity is a welcome sentiment. And with sheer numbers on their side, Hispanic marketers will play a vital role in protecting Multicultural’s seat at the table.


Gretchen Gardner @gardnergretchen

Gretchen is a communications specialist and owner of GMG Strategic Communications. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she works with Argentine and international ventures on shaping their content, branding and marketing strategies to position them for success in global markets. She is also a lover of all things information and has worked consistently in journalism since college, most recently as a writer at Portada and as the deputy editor of The Bubble, the first informal, English-language news portal in Buenos Aires. She hails from Washington, D.C. and has a bachelor's degree in history and Hispanic studies from Hamilton College as well as a master's in international relations from the Argentine university Universidad Torcuato Di Tella.
Gretchen is a communications specialist and owner of GMG Strategic Communications. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she works with Argentine and international ventures on shaping their content, branding and marketing strategies to position them for success in global markets. She is also a lover of all things information and has worked consistently in journalism since college, most recently as a writer at Portada and as the deputy editor of The Bubble, the first informal, English-language news portal in Buenos Aires. She hails from Washington, D.C. and has a bachelor's degree in history and Hispanic studies from Hamilton College as well as a master's in international relations from the Argentine university Universidad Torcuato Di Tella.

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