Thursday, October 22, 2009

Comedy, Cultural Marketing And Did You Know I Am Hispanic?

FACT: Multi-Cultural marketing is the IN thing- especially in direct response.
FACT: Across the world 1+1 is always 2.
FACT: Like words do not always have the same meaning from culture to culture.
FACT: Everyone likes to laugh.

Let's start here!  You go to a comedy club with a variety of comedians- White, Black, Hispanic, Chinese, Italian - pick your mix.  The comic tells a joke.  Half the audience is rolling on the floor while the other half pretends to be taking a sip of their drink because they are perplexed.  People at a comedy club want to laugh even when the joke is not that funny.  Yet sometimes the words themselves are simply not something people can relate to. Potentially they are even offensive.  Worse- they may leave people completely without an opinion.  The reaction of audiences to stand-up comics is just one way to appreciate how it is not language, but rather cultural connection, that can make or break the impact of a message.

Is Humor the Best Way To Bridge Cultural Barriers?  English advertising gurus, like Claude Hopkins in 1923, have always said, “People do not buy from clowns.” Fast forward to David Ogilvy in 1985, “I think this was true in Hopkins’ days and I have reason to believe that it remained true until recently, but the latest wave of factor-analysis reveals that humor can now sell.” Humor plays a vitally important role in consumers’ lives and, therefore, has an important role in the development of effective advertising. But we have to be careful. Let's look at recent advertising with a comedic twist like Shamwow, SlapChop, and Snuggie. These highly effective commercial spots used humor to develop powerful sales messages. But would this humor translate across all cultures without some "tweaking"?  Maybe or maybe not- that is where advertising test dollars are won and lost every year.

Now let's jump to Hispanic advertising.  If your message plays to an English audience can you simply translate the words into perfect Spanish and connect with your consumers?  Weight loss is weight loss in any country?  Credit protection is as important to any family regardless of race?  Everyone would love to have their own home-based business despite their zip code?  Converting English marketing campaigns to Spanish language should be easy by just exchanging words with the same meaning.  Not so.  Converting Hispanic audiences into credit cards orders is more about understanding cultural drivers and respecting cultural nuances than it is about being grammatically correct in your creative scripts and sales pitches. Language is but a tool. Culture is the element that puts that tool to work.

Switch your focus to what can effectively connect cross-cultures.  Take George Lopez’ new HBO Special, “Tall, Dark & Chicano.” If you watch it, you will laugh at some of his jokes guaranteed because they hold universal truths.  But unless you are culturally clued into the very specific Latino audience that he targets (Chicanos) you will find your self sipping your drink in silence.  For some, Chicano populates the mind with images of gangs and other such stereotypes.  But Lopez's unique understanding of this culture allows him to make fun of Chicanos, using a politically charged brand of humor, that leaves them feeling empowered and places like the San Antonio AT&T Center sold out.   Now consider Tommy Davidson, an Black comic, that uses great skill to "fry up" Latino's on their own television stations.  This non-Latino shoves his outside perpective down the audience's throat but in a way that clearly shows affection and respect.  Even though he doesn't speak the language or even belong to the cultural group, he has made a cultural connection.  When you can connect with a culture from the outside your message is very powerful.  And remember, people want to laugh, engage and understand so your attempts to send a message simply must have respect, affection and cultural nuance.

Here's is an example of a cultural nuance.  For Hispanic's, a commercial with people having a conversation gains more credibility if the people touch during conversation.  Hispanics have a very touchy-feely communication style and watching an advertisement that lacks this little nuance will steal away credibility.

Hispanic's like to laugh and react to humor that is personal.  In this way, creating a Hispanic advertising campaign using humor, like that found in a Shamwow commercial, may be a winner.  You must make sure that the humor resonates and is effective- this is another reason to bone up on nuances.

And let's not stop with Hispanic marketing.    Understanding cultural nuances is the key to all Multi-cultural marketing.  Vivian Chen, a manager for US Marketing for McDonald's, had this to say about McDonald's current marketing efforts in Asia.  "...I strongly believe in building long-term relationships with our consumers. We connect with our diverse consumers through their cultural heritage and passion points like music and sports for the African-American segment, entertainment and soccer for the Hispanic audience, and achievement and education opportunities for the Asian consumers. McDonald’s continues to reinforce its brand affinity through a comprehensive and integrated approach that includes traditional media, digital media, social media, events marketing, community outreach, and public relations — all of which bring together the various touch points to connect with the specific target audience."  You got to hand it to them - they sell a lot of Happy Meals!

Right now is the time to embrace multi-cultural marketing.  The U.S. is a melting pot and it is time our advertising budgets reflected this.  Many of you may not realize that I am Hispanic but I am very much so.  And while I may not photograph that way, I am heavily affected by cultural nuances when it comes to advertising.  I listen to Spanish radio and watch Spanish TV.  I have family in Mexico and regularly speak to members of my family who do not speak English.  I buy American products and send them to relatives in Mexico.  I am a decedent of the very cultural group many direct response marketers have pictured in their mind "as difficult to market to".  The stereotype most commonly heard is that the Hispanic market does not have credit cards or disposable income.  Another stereotype is that Hispanics produce lower average order values and a bigger need for COD.  I can tell you first hand that these stereotypes are keeping many marketers from making some series money.  There are many tips and tricks to maximizing this type of campaign.

"Multi-Cultural marketing is too niche!"  And to this I say, "Have you noticed how many cable channels there are now and have you seen how big the Internet is lately?  Niche is in!  Niche and Nuance go hand in hand.  Niche allows you to test cultural messaging cheaply.  Niche marketing makes it easier for more people to get your message and actually react to it in a favorable way.

Here are a few tips to consider when putting together a multi-cultural campaign.
1. It’s important to have a diverse team because they bring some of the insights of the
consumer naturally.  If your marketing staff is not diverse enough you have to find contributing members that fit the bill.  This may mean holding focus groups or hiring a media or creative company to consult.
2. Review advertising that has a long standing in a highly saturated cultural community.  This may be looking at billboards in neighborhoods, searching culturally driven community websites for the banner ads, or watching TV channels targeting the culture specifically.  Become familiar with the styles you see over and over.
3. Understand what makes a message authentic and credible in that culture. 
4. Test digitally when possible.  Research supports that multicultural audiences are using high-tech options to research, shop, and buy products. For example, of the 23 million Hispanics who have online access, 77 percent use the Internet to learn about products, while 70 percent use it to make a final buying decision.
4. Make sure that your cultural connection is not left out of your back-end marketing, such as your call center scripts.  If you have figured out the TV, radio or print messaging and it is generating a response you must follow-up the consumer's response with call center agents that have the same cultural connection.  In Hispanic marketing your call center campaign can be improved just by how the agents are trained or even understanding how different Hispanic accents affect ROI.

I would like to end this post with a really funny joke... but I am a terrible joke teller... I'll leave that to people like George Lopez!