Thanks, Toyota: multicultural marketing has reached mainstream marketing! If you look closer, Americans are more alike than we thought; welcome to the era of transcultural marketing.
Before, multicultural marketing was truly niche marketing. It worked to appeal to specific segments of the market, typically segmented by ethnic affiliation, by playing to cultural references that typically set the target market apart from the general population. For example, a scene featuring a quinceañera celebration in a commercial might have been truly moving to one audience but not so much to another. (I am not saying that multicultural marketing is dead; on the contrary, it is still alive and well. I am simply saying that we have changed and thus created a new layer of marketing – one that is more inclusive in its differences.)
Enter the case of Mexican food. What was once consumed primarily by Americans of Mexican descent is now eaten by everyone. In the United States, it does not matter what color you are, what language you speak or what you eat for breakfast; I would bet money than every living American has eaten a taco at least once. Today Mexican food has undeniable mass appeal. I would guess that more enchiladas are consumed in the US than apple pie – among all ethnicities.
Now look at the Toyota commercial aired on Sunday Night Football. This came from their multicultural marketing team. The commercial featured an African-American woman who found a guitar that belonged to B.B. King. She drove the car being advertised and then tried to give the famed guitar player his instrument back, but instead she was rewarded for the gesture with his autograph. On the surface, you could argue that the commercial caters solely to African-American audiences. However, B.B. King is not just an African-American musician; he is an American musician. Blues is not just an African-American genre; it is an American genre. The commercial has wide appeal because we as Americans have changed. We have borrowed and embraced lots of each other’s culture.
Entertainment and advertising have gotten more diverse, but so have we and our tastes. As Americans, we are more likely than ever to befriend and marry people who do not look the way we do. We are more likely than ever to watch TV shows starring people who do not look the way we do. We are more likely than ever to eat foods that come from places we cannot pronounce decently.
Multicultural marketing is smart (even if sometimes it is not as culturally sensitive as it should be). It allows advertisers to chase the dollar trail to niches they would not otherwise be able to follow. Transcultural marketing is also about the money. It allows advertisers to create fewer niche-specific ads and still make good money. But all that money aside, I am proud of what transcultural marketing says about us: we Americans are more alike than we thought.