Millennials, multiculturalism and “two worlds”

Not all millennials are alike. So why do so many advertisers approach them that way?

“There’s such a huge opportunity to really fall in love and build a relationship with millennials,” said Zandile Blay, Harvard University Fellow, and former online editor of Essence.com. “To ignore that by doing what’s already been done over and over again is to not just miss money but to really miss an opportunity to build and talk with really amazing people.”

Blay was one of the panelists this afternoon at “A Millennial Perspective on Diversity and Multiculturalism,” organized by the American Advertising Federation (AAF). General Mills hosted the discussion in Minneapolis, which also was broadcast to audiences (which included college students) in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.

The panel also featured Harjot Singh, executive strategy partner at McCann New York; Jason Crain, account manager at Google; Pushpa Gopalan, senior vice president and strategic planning director for Leo Burnett USA; and Marcus Jimenez, partner/principal at Huemanitas.

“Culture is really the pivot point that is changing the entire marketplace,” said Jimenez. “I think if you look at it through the lens of culture, and how that impacts us – from an attitudes, beliefs, values, behavior mechanism – that’s going to help change a couple things.”

Rudy Rodriguez, the director of multicultural marketing at General Mills, moderated the session. He drew out some interesting observations when he asked the group if multicultural millennials consider themselves to be living in two worlds.

“I’m going to say quite emphatically, ‘no’,” said Singh. “Because I think that it’s not really accurate, and it’s not really in our best interest to even presume that millennials feel that they live in two worlds, one where they can kind of be themselves because they’re hanging out with people of their own race or ethnicity and one where they can be a little more conformative because they’re out in society.”

“We understand when to turn it on and when to turn it off, so it’s not like we’re living in two worlds – that is our world,” Crain said. “Our world is very well-rounded. Our world is very inclusive and understanding of where we are, who our audience is, when I can speak a certain way and when I can speak another way.”

So how do advertisers connect to millennials in that kind of environment?

“We assumed we would know a lot if we knew a person’s age, ethnicity and income, and I can make a few assumptions about them, which just does not bear true,” said Gopalan. “It’s much more a curated persona around this millennial group. It makes our jobs harder, but it’s much more interesting to figure you guys out.”

And what about the term “multiculturalism?” Is it time to retire it?

“I personally don’t see the need for the term multiculturalism,” Jimenez said. “I think in some ways, especially when you look at it from a millennial context, it’s more of a cross-cultural thing.”

“Multiculturalism, in the millennial context, has to be about what’s driving consumer culture and popular culture, much more than what my cultural reference is because I’m of a certain ethnic origin. It runs deeper than that,” said Singh.

You can learn more about today’s event at http://aaftl.com. See photos on the General Mills Flickr page, or read the tweets from the event at the #thoughtleadership hashtag on Twitter.

This blog post also appears on “A Taste of General Mills.”

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