To Go “Total Market” is a Regression in Marketing

April 11, 2017

“Total Market” is currently the go-to approach for reaching multiple, diverse audiences. Simply put, it is one marketing program, with one set of cross-cultural executions running in mainstream media, designed to reach all consumers, across general and ethnic markets. An unofficial definition from the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies’ Annual Conference has made the rounds:

“A marketing approach followed by corporations with their trusted internal and external partners which proactively integrates diverse segment considerations. This is done from inception, through the entire strategic process and execution, with the goal of enhancing value and growth effectiveness. In marketing communications this could lead to either one fully integrated cross-cultural approach, individual segment approaches, or both in many cases, but always aligned under one overarching strategy.”

This definition encompasses the essence of Total Market, but one worrisome trend is that marketers are executing the first component, i.e. fully integrated cross-cultural approach while discarding the individual segment approach. Both approaches should go hand-in-hand to effectively reach multicultural audiences.

The fact of the matter is that this is going back to what multicultural advertising was 15, 20 years ago. Total Market can be seen as the “universal” approach or the “rainbow” approach of the past. At one time, a common term that described multiple ethnicities coexisting was used to name this approach, calling it the “tossed salad” approach. The prevailing attitude was the need be inclusive without having the expertise, nor inclination, to be targeted, authentic and personalized. Therefore, in practice, Total Market becomes the “adaptation” model–a shift away from ethnic-specific targeting. The result is an approach that tries to be “for everyone” producing watered-down creative that becomes too generalized, and sometimes, even for the general market. Meeting the lowest, common denominator leads to stifled creativity.

For Asian Americans, Total Market’s reach is especially limited. It can do a good job of reaching Asian Americans who mostly consume General Market media, the more acculturated Asian Americans. However, Total Market becomes a problem when almost 70% of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and, many prefer to speak a language other than English. The reality is that the impact of any Total Market campaign will likely miss the majority of this audience. In fact the 3AF (Asian American Advertising Federation) has recently published a comprehensive study of Asian American media consumption that clearly shows Asian Americans’ preference for in-language and in-culture media channels.

At APartnership, we create work that fills the gap left by a Total Market strategy that forgoes segment specific targeting. We want ALL Asian Americans, not just U.S.-born, highly assimilated, general market Asian Americans, to enjoy what America has to offer, no matter the cultural and linguistic differences. We do this by creating brand communications that connect products and services to Asian American consumers through their unique cultural and linguistic insights; developing in-culture/in-language, nuanced, insightful creative that touch the hearts and minds of the Asian American consumer; and, helping clients understand their marketing assets and create effective and efficient digital and traditional advertising outreach.

We take into account that the Asian American experience with brands and products is unique, and behavior and culturally-driven attitudes will be different. It’s not just a difference of language, but true cultural differences and norms. A great example of this, and one we are particularly proud of, is our campaigns for Nationwide.  We created work that was meaningful for the South Asian community, while keeping in sync with the General Market platform and creative.  Research demonstrated that South Asians dedicate themselves to securing positive outcomes in key life-stages.  To win with this audience, we positioned Nationwide and its agents as partners who help facilitate success in education, marriage, career, etc., and developed creative messages that appeal to the South Asian sense of humor and affinity for entertainment.  Learn more about our Nationwide work here.