Marketing to Diversity: Lessons from U.S. Politics

The 2012 presidential election confirmed something we’ve known for quite some time: There is a new normal in the United States, and that new normal is multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural. Though Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote, the highest total for a GOP nominee since 1988, he was not victorious.

Dede Fitch, Editor, Global Solutions

President Obama was reelected due in large part to the strength of his support from Latinos (71%), African Americans (93%), and Asian Americans (73%). Together these groups represented close to 30 percent of the total votes cast, compared to roughly 10 percent in the 1990s.

The lessons for politicians are clear, but there is a lesson for marketers as well. Brands that continue to focus their marketing on the traditional non-Hispanic white mainstream will become niche brands—just as Mitt Romney was, in the end, a niche candidate. He had strong support among those who looked like him, i.e., non-Hispanic white males, but that group is no longer large enough to send a candidate to the White House.

Dede Fitch, Editor, Global Solutions

To stay relevant and grow in today’s America, brands need to change and adapt. While we are not a majority-minority nation yet, ethnic segments already have significant influence on the country’s social, cultural, economic, and political life, and therefore should be treated not as siloed segments but as a fundamental part of a brand’s mainstream marketing strategy.

This lesson is applicable for marketers everywhere, since brands all over the world face the challenge of appealing to increasingly diverse audiences. The first step in meeting this challenge is to develop a research-based understanding of the type of strategy needed for a particular brand.


In reaching the different racial and ethnic groups that comprise the new mainstream, two main approaches are considered: cross-cultural marketing and multicultural marketing. While the former aims across demographic groups by appealing to consumer similarities rather than differences, traditional multicultural marketing targets a specific demographic group such as Hispanics.

The debate between defenders of each approach has been quite passionate in recent times. Both sides present compelling arguments to support their respective views; consensus has yet to be reached. Why? The business interests of agencies that specialize in one or the other approach are a contributing factor, to be sure. But another obstacle is the assumption that cross-cultural and multicultural marketing are mutually exclusive practices. They are not, and in fact, a combined approach is often needed to achieve the best return on marketing investment.

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