Jake Beniflah Talks About The Big Shift To Multicultural Media And Advertising

January 25, 2021

Get ready for seismic changes in multicultural media and advertising, says Dr. Jake Beniflah. Changing demography, emerging technologies and fragmenting distribution systems are transforming the media and advertising industries. Yet marketing to U.S. Hispanics continues to lag, says Beniflah, executive director of the Center for Multicultural Science, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research think tank.

He argues multicultural plans should be placed at the center of mainstream advertising in The Big Shift: Redefining Marketing in a Multicultural America (Center for Multicultural Science, 2020). The author talks about his newly-released book in this interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.

The primary tactic for reaching U.S. Hispanics used to be language, specifically Spanish. Then, the conventional wisdom said culture was all-important. You suggest taking a different approach.

An automotive industry client asked me how to drive media return on investment. I wanted to help and started thinking about ways to deconstruct the model. The notion of all Latinos having a Spanish language or cultural preference — to me, these are generalizations that have been applied to the entire Hispanic population.

I’m an immigrant, even though I don’t have an accent. I’ve been here since I was seven. Not every person who’s foreign born has the same experience as an immigrant, but I do share the immigrant experience. I started questioning whether language is the variable that defines Hispanic marketing and began looking at different variables that would simplify the discussion.

Nativity, whether you’re U.S. born or foreign born — or what the U.S. Census describes as first, second or third or more [generation] — is a better predictor than language in what Latinos consume in media. That has billion-dollar implications. Our research has found that an estimated 80% of Spanish language linear television doesn’t reach Latino millennials.

For example, there are about 60 million Hispanics with roughly a third in each of the three buckets of foreign born, second generation and third or more gen. If you apply the Nielsen language quintiles, a little over 60% of the foreign born speak more Spanish than English or only Spanish, which makes sense.

When you look at the second and third, between 60 and 90% of the U.S. born Hispanics are English dominant. The average hides these really interesting nuances.

If we’re interested in creating a monolithic view of Latinos, creating an average is the best way to do it. By looking at nativity, you find some real differences.

Your new book, The Big Shift, has just come out. What should readers expect? 

A lot of companies were built in the 20th century and need to move into the 21st century. Structural changes, leadership, measurement — these are the type of things that differentiate winners from losers or leaders from laggards. Companies need to evolve.

But you don’t know what you don’t know. Until someone says, look at this data point or look at what’s happening in the marketplace because of the [demographic] shifts, everyone’s got other priorities.

The CMO Council did a study about four years ago and about half the CEOs felt multicultural consumers weren’t critical to their business. About 80% of CMOs said they were. The CMOs are closer to the consumer and see reality. Those higher in the organization don’t see the growth opportunity.

In my view, the world looks at us as people, and don’t have these associations around Latinos and Blacks, etc. Within the United States, there are associations of us that are very negative and hurtful — not personally, but from a business standpoint.

This is why some companies question whether a campaign developed with cultural insights will offend White consumers. There’s no proof of that. But the question still is posed.

Guess what? The companies that have no fear are going to be the first ones capitalizing on the opportunity.

Why is there resistance to making the big shift among marketers and media companies?

Courage. It’s all about courage at the top to say let’s go, there’s some new things that we’re going to experience but we’re going let our people internally tell us whether we’re doing it right or not as we move into this new 21st century, multicultural America.

It really does take courage and cultural bravery. What’s the obstacle holding companies back from engaging with multicultural population segments? 

This question came up in my head while talking to a CPG [consumer package goods] manager handling a number of brands, some of which were billion-dollar brands but a lot that weren’t.

Only one brand took the approach that multicultural now means mainstream. The company didn’t apply it to the others. It’s like there were silos within the organization. But it’s not about silos. It’s about listening, about investor satisfaction, about making your numbers every quarter, about taking a path of least resistance: How do I win without having to sprint?

Based upon what you’re saying, what’s the future of the multicultural media and marketing industries? 

I’m not saying anything revolutionary. We’re all in agreement that the mainstream is multicultural. We don’t need to validate the business model for diversity, equity and inclusion. Multicultural America is here to stay. The future is about integration.

So why are we still lagging with budgets? Why are the Chief Diversity Officers not empowered to make changes within organizations?

We know what we need to do. It’s a question of whether there’s enough momentum. The more of us that are integrated into the mainstream, the more we get equal time on the mic, right? I want not just a seat around the table, but an equal voice.

There’s no politics here or rather, the politics of today’s business is green.

Listen to the full episode of The Revolución Podcast featuring Dr. Jake Beniflah with co-hosts Ana Crandell, Diego Lastra and Court Stroud on iHeartMediaSpotify, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, Amazon Podcasts, or by clicking here.

Source: Court Stroud, Forbes