Agency Consolidation and the “Intercultural New Mainstream”

20 Aug 2010|Miguel Winebrenner

The New York Times recently ran an article about how certain companies, like Burger King, have begun consolidating their agencies (essentially eliminating their multicultural agencies).  The author, Stuart Elliott, notes that this move is “indicative of a trend that has accelerated as younger consumers, who are often less likely to use traditional labels of race and ethnicity, have become more of a force in the consumer marketplace.”

Consolidation is a trend (or experiment, some would say) that’s happening not only because of shifting attitudes and demographics, but also due to apparent benefits to operations and finance realized by client companies moving to a single go-to partner.  But consolidation, most marketers know, also has several cons — most notably that all eggs in one basket can be risky, and that specialized multicultural marketing is not easy to pull off (ask ad agency Kang and Lee what it is like to conduct research in 10+ languages with multiple dialects within each language). 

I’m not sure where this debate over consolidation will net out but what I’d hate to see is proponents of it send a message — on purpose or not — that all youth are now suddenly all the same and as a result, that clients use this misrepresentation as an opportunity to lump all consumers together and [cost-effectively] carpet bomb them with a unilateral message. 

Cheskin Added Value has long argued that this new mainstream is one of “intraculturalism” whereby kids and teens are, to quote my colleague Stephen Palacios, “picking and choosing from the cultural sensibilities that they find attractive.” Put another way, they “can be Asian at home, bicultural at school and something entirely different with their friends.”  And this isn’t just happening with ethnic youth; “general market” kids and teens are also part of intraculturalism, picking and choosing from other cultures.

Back in 2006 we began to see signs of this new mainstream in a study called “Nuestro Futuro,” where we used ethnographies to uncover how Hispanic youth were redefining traditional mainstream, due in part to their “immigrant DNA” and an underlying optimism.  Multicultural youth, Hispanics in this case, embrace ethnicity (and the heritage and values that come along with that) as part of a unique identity… emphasis on unique.

In summary, as the agency consolidation debate continues marketers should consider the unique cultural and identity factors that are inputs into this “intercultural new mainstream” as much as the operational and functional dimensions, and consider that Burger King may not be the best case study given their history of going back and forth between consolidation and specialization.

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