5 reasons why great multicultural creative dies before it gets to market

When I talk to my colleagues in the multicultural marketing and advertising industry, I hear the same cries of pain, the same complaints, the same scars of battles lost and I've been hearing them for a few years.

We bemoan the poor quality of work that we tend to see in the multicultural market - some of us even confess, shamefacedly, that we made some of it - because business needs forced us into it (never a valid excuse in my opinion). But, set aside for now, multicultural advertising's collective inability to have a spine. Let us say, for the purpose of argument, that we always face our clients fully armed with intelligence, commitment, knowledge and integrity. Are there still roadblocks that stop the most creative advertising from making it into the market?

I believe there are. Here are the five most common impediments.

1. Multicultural "councils".
Do you do this with Quebec? When did merely being brown qualify anyone to judge multicultural advertising? Do clients do this with mainstream ads? Do they ask random white folks if their multimillion-dollar campaign works? And then, do they yank it?

Advice to clients: Follow the same discipline you do in the mainstream and set a budget for tracking the effectiveness of your work with genuine research. Don't take comfort or guidance from the opinions of random pink, green or polka-dotted folks who work for you just because you are doing a campaign for the pink, green or polka-dotted market. And, if you absolutely must, then for Buddha's sake, make them proper members of your team, at the table from the creative briefing through to the creative presentation.

2. Junior staff assigned total multicultural marketing responsibility.
Insulting. If you aren't ready to commit, don't. When a senior client assigns an untrained junior to the multicultural portfolio it is a clear and simple message to your agency: this is not important. At best, you will get safe, predictable advertising that mindlessly mimics your mainstream advertising in another language with none of the value addition that insight-driven ideas bring. The worst thing that can happen unfolds if the junior employee is culturally insensitive to boot. Instead of a beautifully timed series of controlled chain reactions that power your brand forward, you get a multicultural Chernobyl - your brand will become radioactive in the very market you were trying to win - the fallout is that your consumer won't come anywhere near you for a long, long time.

Advice to clients: pick your multicultural advertising leaders carefully - they do not have to come from minority markets themselves but they should have the marketing chops for the job and they should demonstrate curiosity about cultures other than their own, and an openness that an alternative cultural viewpoint can even exist.

3. Lip service (let's just translate) and tokenism (IVMH).
Don't waste my time. I won't waste your money. We routinely turn away translation clients.
IVMH stands for Insert Visible Minority Here and refers to the tendency of many marketers to simply replace mainstream talent with a random brown or Chinese face. I will write more about this in another post - and I spoke briefly about it in the CBC interview. The patronizing attitude that lies behind this sort of business decision is not lost on your consumers.

Advice to clients: Stop doing this. Immediately. Save your money and invest it in insight-driven idea-centric communications instead.

4. Pretend expertise.
Too many agencies pretend to be more than they are. We see Hispanic agencies that swear that they can manage Asian American markets without an issue - or vice versa. We see Chinese market agencies that say they can handle South Asian markets - or vice versa. There are some that do, but these are few and far apart.

Advice to clients: Make sure they have the expertise - ask to meet their creative teams.

5. A dearth of creative talent:
This is a hard fact that we must face in order to change things. We have a shortage of high quality creative talent in Canadian multicultural advertising. Here's my requirement of my multicultural creative team - and my minimum definition of "high quality": they need to be good enough to work at a good Canadian mainstream agency and they need to have won mainstream awards. If they haven't they aren't. Why do I say this? Because, for your sake dear client, they need to be able to understand the discipline and rigour of Canadian mainstream strategic planning and advertising, they need to rise above the ad hoc, anything goes mentality that dominates so many multicultural agencies.

Advice to clients: ask your agency who from their team has worked in the mainstream.

In closing, some general recommendations that I believe will help us fix things.

If you're an agency: train, support, inspire, invest.
Lead by example: don't compromise because the business is small or the sector is weak.
Teach your creative staff how to walk the talk.
For my part, I am founding an organization that will recognize the best creative work in the category, with judges who are world class. If you're interested in supporting or joining this, write to me.

If you're a client: Commit to and demand the best.
Expect the same things from your multicultural agency as from your mainstream agency.
Work of the highest strategic and creative quality for your market. People you can enjoy working with and can trust to deliver.
I would challenge you to provide the same things to your multicultural agency as you do your mainstream agency. Great, disciplined marketing briefs, the involvement and interest of senior marketing management, and the same respect for the process you give mainstream work.

If you're the industry: Of course, the industry needs to support this: how much multicultural marketing or advertising is actually taught in universities and schools? I haven’t heard of a single real commitment to creating a sense of multicultural advertising as a real discipline. It is not taught at any of the advertising programs in Canada - which is both, a shocker, and sadly reflective of how the Canadian advertising industry has long been the last, late adopter of multiculturalism.

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