Marketers Need to Rethink How to Mix Multicultural Themes and American Cues in Advertising

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As advertising approaches a tipping point in the need to appeal across multiple demographics, marketers are asking “what really works across the wide spectrum of identity that is America today?” Our analysis of ads unpacks the conundrum and reveals some startling insights.

Despite increasing political polarization and the risk of misfires, more and more advertising is being released that reflects a wider embrace of different ethnicity, racial backgrounds, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and stories of the American experience.

Nike’s controversial embrace of stances taken by Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams represents the long view that activating against these themes is a necessity even if the earned media upside comes with some near-term pain.  But unfortunately, many marketers struggle to understand the creative subtleties that can make or break a campaign that blends these themes.  Even the most well-funded brands experience high profile missteps.

Using our proprietary AdCompare methodology using facial tracking and machine learning, we generate Total Market Quotient (TM-Q) that allows comparison of ads.  The higher the TM-Q the better

Our detailed analysis of 20 ads will be presented during our Fall 2018 Roundtables, but here are a few preview findings:

Marketers win big by eliciting an emotion we call “peak sentimentality.”

Peak sentimentality best predicts interest in sharing an ad with others, the perception that the message is important, and an improvement in the opinion of the brand. Marketers succeed in capturing viewers’ hearts and minds (and wallets) when the ad tells a story that elicits this emotional mix of sadness and surprise, and ties it to the brand effectively.

Sustaining emotion into the branding moment makes or breaks an ad.

Marketers must ensure the branding moment has a logical connection to the underlying narrative of the ad.

Culturally-authentic casting is a safe bet.

Marketers generate high TM-Q for all segments when diversity seems natural and not “manufactured.”  Diverse casting in a conventional situation (like a biracial couple making dinner) is also a safe bet.

Cultural themes can be both high risk and high reward.  

Themes outside the “traditional mainstream” like immigrant experience, gender and sexual discrimination, and non-traditional families perform well with Hispanics and Asians, but both African-Americans and non-Hispanic Whites take strong issue with these messages.

Asians and African-Americans are polar opposites when it comes to “American cues.”

Perhaps one of the most provocative findings in our study indicates that African-Americans respond poorly to “traditional” American cues, with exceptionally low TM-Q. By contrast these same themes produce very high TM-Q in Asians, indeed far greater than with non-Hispanic Whites. Marketers must vet Creative closely to be sure that traditionally “safe” American themes do not drive unintended consequences with target audiences.

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If you’d like to learn more, contact us below.  Members can access the full findings, check out research on Creating Culturally Authentic Content or check out our approach to ad testing. Non-members can learn more by reaching out to

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