Monday, October 17, 2016

Media Brands Navigate The Multicultural Future

Two great presentations at Monday’s Entertainment and Media track took on the multicultural consumer. It’s a popular topic: the undeniable fact of a diversifying US population forces brands to rethink their approaches. Especially so, when you consider that the demographic prizes marketers most covet – Millennials and Gen Z – are at the front of this change.

Thomas Grayman from Spike TV applied the latest neuroscience techniques to this thorny problem, and came away with a valuable insight about how representation impacts viewers of color at a subconscious level. Yatisha Forde of NBC Universal took the “reaching the multicultural consumer” rulebook and tore it right up, asking us to turn our assumptions upside down: as multiculturalism becomes the “New Mainstream”, start with the Hispanic consumer and reach the rest of the market from them.

Spike TV had a typical media brand problem. It had built its brand on appealing to young white men, and now it needed to reach a broader audience. It had a roster of strong reality and celebrity shows – like tattoo throwdown Ink Master and personal finance boot camp Life Or Debt.  But how could the brand market its line-up to viewers outside its former core audience?

Grayman described how Spike TV crafted ads for its shows and tested them with cells of white and non-white consumers, using NeuroInsight. NeuroInsight’s techniques monitored brain response to the ads – in particular, the extent to which long-term memory is activated by a piece of content.

Initial results made tough reading for a brand looking to expand its audience for a more diverse era. Despite diverse casts with people of color prominently featured, the ads scored lower among the non-white participants on engagement and on long-term memory activation. Emotional response was starkly negative. What was going on?

Lip Sync Battle - what did it get right?

By exploring response on a second-by-second basis, Spike TV could find out exactly what the problem was. On average the ads were a turn off for non-white viewers, but with a stark in response before and after the first prominent appearance of a person of color. As soon as one appeared, memory encoding jumped. And the ad in which people of color appeared prominently throughout – for celebrity miming challenge Lip Sync Battle – saw no difference between white and non-white response.

Grayman called this moment of truth for non-white viewers “the invitation” – the point at which they unconsciously register that yes, this show welcomes them. With this insight, Spike TV has been able to retool its marketing as it looks to build and diversify its audience. The moment of invitation needn’t involve visual representation – one ordinary Persil ad found its “invitation” in the closing seconds, with a snatch of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do it”.

Multicultural representation is a hot topic – it’s generally framed as both a social and commercial good, based on the overall positive effects of under-represented groups seeing themselves in the media. Spike TV’s study offered proof of its impact at an individual level – representation is the key to unlocking engagement, attention and long-term impact.

Yatisha Forde of NBCUniversal took that insight a step further. The brand’s CultureFirst™ approach flipped the traditional multicultural script. Instead of taking a Total Market insight and ‘translating’ it for different minority groups, the CultureFirst approach takes insights designed for a particular consumer – a young Hispanic woman – and then transfers them to the total market. By not using whiteness as an assumed baseline, CultureFirst is able to get ahead of cultural trends, not play catch-up. As Forde put it, “Total market strategies driven by Latino human truths will drive stronger consumer resonance among Hispanics and Non-Hispanics, due to the profound, pervasive and permanent nature of Latino culture in the US.”

In practical terms, this meant ads that started Spanish-language and tested just as well among Hispanic and non-Hispanic groups when transferred to English-language. It also meant feeding into NBC Universal’s CurveReport – the company’s large-scale trend tracker. CultureFirst helped NBC Universal locate a group it called “the New Mainstream”, made up of Hispanic consumers but also Hispanic-inspired consumers: again, moving the assumptions of what ‘mainstream’ culture is to better reveal the future shape of the market.

The trends uncovered were the most fascinating part of Forde’s report. Some were pragmatic – putting the spotlight on La Jefa (“the boss”), figurehead of a trend towards female-owned small Latina businesses, a segment that’s grown 87% over the last decade. Others had profound implications for cultural identity – ‘Otherland’, shorthand for the way in which Hispanic and ‘New Mainstream’ consumers are comfortable with multiple cultural identities from the broad to the niche: Hispanic and witch, Blaxican and skater. But rather than dividing consumers into segments of one, these intersectional identities become hubs by which like-minded people can find each other.

The CultureFirst approach has led NBC Universal to re-think the way it treats culture. Younger generations, it realises, want to see themselves as the owners and tellers of their own story, not simply as an audience. So honouring existing culture is only an important first step. After it comes sharing culture without appropriation, by giving its owners the agency to tell stories. Then finally helping people inspired by these stories to connect.

Both these presentations were inspiring beginnings to TMRE 2016. Grayman’s showed how new technology can crack the trickiest of marketing problems. Forde’s was an inspirational vision of a genuinely future-focused marketing, which puts demographic change at its centre.

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