Advertising Asks Millennials: Does Diversity Matter?

Advertising Asks Millennials: Does Diversity Matter?

The American Advertising Federation and General Mills sponsored a thought leadership program entitled “A Millennial Perspective on Diversity & Inclusion”.  The 11/9/11 event, which took place simultaneously in Minneapolis, Chicago, LA, and Washington DC, and New York, consisted of three panels: strategic marketing experts, college students and ad industry mavens. Led by General Mills Director of Multicultural Marketing Rudy Rodriguez, the 1st panel included McCann NY’s Executive Strategic Partner Harjot Singh who leads the planning practice for the General Mills account, Marcus Jimenez head of Huemanitas, Jason Crain an Account Manager at Google, Zandile Blay a Harvard University Fellow and former online editor at, and Pushpa Gopalan the Strategic Planning Director of Leo Burnett USA.  As Harjot Singh brilliantly explained to more than 100 people at the host site in Minneapolis, “(As marketers) we have to be more authentic.  We can’t just put messages out there.  We have to start a conversation.” He urged those assembled to take a critical look at words like “target audience” and “receive messages” that we use in our daily business. Brand marketers need to see millennials as a community that their brand must be invited to be a part of.  In a discussion about the kind of on-line community millennials live in, Marcus Jimenez compared it to his own life where he never loses touch with his Dominican culture, speaking Spanish at home, listening to salsa music in his car, yet in his business life he works on global brands that market to a wide audience of consumers.  He referred to this concept as “existing in two worlds”. But fashion editor and Harvard Fellow Zandile Blay said that thanks to social network sites she has discovered that these two worlds are closer than we think. “I know this is true because my fashion editor friends and my home-girl from high school who got pregnant at 16 hit the “Like” button (on Facebook) for the same things.”

For millennials diversity is the norm but that does not mean they live in a homogeneous world.  Culture is very important.  Social media facilitates living in two worlds allowing Hispanics, Asians and other ethnicities to talk amongst themselves in a way they won’t or can’t in their multicultural lives. Google’s Jason Crain put a finer point on the reason African Americans for example may tune into BET. “It’s not just because they have people who look like me.  It’s because they share my values and I enjoy the content.” Referring to some marketer’s use of a variety of people in their advertising, L’Oreal received high marks from the panel for their use of Beyonce but not all brands get this right. “Rainbow” casting is a dated concept that lacks authenticity.  As consumers, we want to be proud of the brands we buy and this is especially true of millennials who are motivated more by cause than cost.

The panel, made up of advertising agency and media pros who interact with client brand managers and marketing directors every day described the frustration of living in their own two worlds.  These experts say that a disconnect exists between the clients they present to and the audience they are creating messages for. Citing statistics like 1 in 7 marriages in the US is interracial and by 2019 the majority of HS students will be non-white, the panelists decried the difficulty in getting clients to sign off on bold ideas when they don’t see how different the world is today. Their final words can best be summed up by this quote from Harjot Singh, “Education is key.  The more we test new things and pilot new things in the market, the better. We have to be willing to do things that have never been done before.”

The 2nd panel, which took place simultaneously in Minneapolis, Chicago, LA, and Washington DC, and New York, featured students from AAF college chapters.  Participants who took part in the NY panel included students from Pace, Temple, Elon, CCNY, and S.I. Newhouse/Syracuse.  The students were smart, articulate and amazingly at ease as they were interviewed by moderator Adrianne Smith, the managing partner of AdHere Network, before of an audience of more than 80 ad folks.  Their message was heard loud and clear – Don’t talk to us, talk with us and care about the causes we care about.  The 8 panelists agreed that companies like Tom’s Shoes gets it where others do not.  Millennials pay attention to the causes companies support.   Interestingly, they felt that the term “multicultural” did not apply to their lives.  Although the students consistently described a diverse spectrum of friends and classmates, perhaps the word “diversity” seems dated to this generation.

During the 3rd panel, which included McCann Worldgroup Global Chief Creativity Catalyst Nicole Cramer, McCann Worlgroup’s Social Strategy Lead Daniel Maree, Tangerine/Watson Founder Carol Watson, Digital Filmmaker Mesh Flinders and Strategist Carl Desir, the reaction to the two preceding panels was unanimous – Millennials are different from previous generational cohorts but they are not in conflict with their elders as previous generations have been.  In talking through what are commonly cited as frustrations with this generation, the expert panel pointed out that because millennials are connected to media and available 24 hours a day, they want employers to understand and appreciate their desire for free time to pursue personal projects and causes.  The panelists frequently lapsed into giving the students hard-won advice but they also shared some great advice for marketers.  Echoing the 1st session, their recommendations focused on making the work more entertaining, exploring content driven messages rather than sales pitches and keeping it real.

Written by Sallie Mars

This post also appears on the McCann Worldgroup Diversity Blog at

You can follow McCann Worldgroup on Twitter @mccann_wg

“Millennials understand genuine companies”: A Panelist’s (and Millennial) Perspective on AAF Thought Leadership 2011

As I’m sure everyone who participated in yesterday’s Millennial Perspectives in Advertising panel will agree, it was an incredibly insightful and wide-ranging discussion!

For one thing, it provided an excellent platform for us (the advertising industry) to begin debunking some of the common misperceptions that exist about Millennials in the workplace: “Millennials have a poor work ethic” (read: we’re lazy); “Millennials have short attention spans” (read: we’re unfocused). This list goes on and on. But as yesterday’s student participants pointed out, it’s time to stop applying negative adjectives to those traits that differentiate us from other generations simply because they are just that: different. Instead of lazy and unfocused, try tech-savvy and entrepreneurial. Let’s face it, it’s not all about the 9-to-5 anymore. It would behoove companies and brands to embrace this fact.

Perhaps my favorite part of the panel was a discussion about how Millennials seek to leverage their consumerism in benevolent ways and expect brands to be authentic in this pursuit. “Millennials understand genuine companies,” one student pointed out. “We’re not looking for [brands] to blow smoke up our…” another student reported. If anything, it was certainly an authentic and unfiltered discussion.

One thing that surprised me about yesterday, which I had a chance to raise on the Executive Panel at McCann New York towards the end of the evening, was that there was hardly any mention of diversity and inclusion as it relates to people with disabilities or other factors that might limit their participation, like language. When it comes to the advertising industry, diversity and inclusion should have as much to do with what we’re putting out as what we’re bringing in. In real terms, this mean developing content and platforms that are multilingual, localized, and accessible to the hearing and sight impaired. Fodder for next year’s discussion, which I encourage everyone to attend!

Search #thoughtleadership to see the entire discussion as it unfolded on Twitter and follow @AAFNational and @mccann_wg to join the conversation!

Follow me on Twitter @danielmaree