Up until this point, marketers and policy makers alike have prioritized diversity in their messaging in order to cater to more diverse audiences.

Have they got it right?

In many cases public leaders and private companies focus on diversity in simplified forms, and often fall into a trap of looking at Black consumers, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics, as singular blocks of people.

But they’re not, which is what makes intersectionality so crucial. When you have a view of how different factors fit together, you’re free to uncover the nuances and diversity that occurs within any group. 

How race and ethnicity overlap

Take, for example, the incredible diversity within the Hispanic population in the U.S.

While Hispanic Americans are rapidly becoming one of the largest groups within the U.S., they’re often lumped together into one marketing category or voting bloc, which ignores key differences present in this community.

One facet of this is the overlap between race and ethnicity among Hispanic Americans, which speaks to how unique subgroups within the population can – and do – have distinct cultural connections.

According to our GWI USA data, 12% of Hispanics identify as Black and 5% identify as Asian American. Hispanics in America also associate their family’s heritage with many different countries of origin. Most notably:

  • 35% from Mexico. 
  • 15% from Puerto Rico.
  • 10% from Spain. 

In its entirety, the list includes nearly 30 other countries across South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

The fact that some marketers group such diverse cultures together may help explain why only one in 10 Hispanics in the U.S. say they feel represented in the advertising they see.  

By looking at the intersectionality of age, gender or income, we can better understand the subgroups of an audience overall, and begin to speak more effectively with tailored messaging for specific consumers. 

Through the examples below, we’ll look at how this plays out for brands in more tangible detail. 

Acknowledging the intersection between race and income

While it’s easy to spot differences between racial groups in America, overlaying income helps us to spot the nuances and advise brands on how to build trust with consumers. 

Overall, a high number of Americans say they don’t trust big brands or corporations at all.

Splitting this by income, however, we find that distrust is being driven in large part by lower income Americans, while more wealthy Americans remain more trustful of brands.

Factoring in racial differences, also allows us to crack open part of the real story. For White and Hispanic Americans, this distrust subsides steadily as income increases, yet for Black and Asian Americans the story is quite different. Income hardly affects the perception of large brands for Asian Americans, and distrust in corporations is lower than average across this ethnic group as a whole.

Yet, for Black Americans, income has less of a proportional relationship with these misgivings. Instead, both low and middle income Black consumers show similar levels of distrust in brands, and this only begins to subside when we get to high income Black consumers. 

For companies looking to improve their perception in the eyes of U.S. consumers, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

Looking at differences in income or race in isolation isn’t a true reflection of what really drives people – unless you look at how they intersect. 

For example, marketing a product or selling an idea to the average “middle class” American isn’t doing anyone justice. What characterizes institutional trust among those in the middle income bracket is driven in large part by racial differences.

Marketing with intersectionality in mind

To truly represent an audience in advertising, individuals who make up that audience need to identify with how they’re being portrayed.

It sounds simple, but authentic representation is an area of marketing that still needs work. A large part of this relies on understanding how different groups connect with their own heritage, and as with many other topics this depends not just on race, but on age as well. 

Segmenting Black Americans by generation, we see some stark differences in how these groups connect with their culture.

How Black Americans connect with their heritage

Different age groups within the Black community will respond to advertising that reflects aspects of their heritage they connect with the most. 

Think of everyone as the center of their own personal Venn diagram. All of us are connected to wider circles that define key parts of our social experience. Intersectionality helps us to see how beliefs and perceptions are impacted when these characteristics combine. 

Each aspect of our identity – race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, religion, personal appearance etc. – plays a role in how we interact with the world around us.

Understanding what happens where each of these traits intersect can help us to better understand the driving forces of discrimination and privilege within society.  

Knowing what true diversity is

Over the course of 2020, equality, diversity and inclusion have become major topics in our global conversation. 

Around the world, Black Lives Matter protests have demanded changes in the ways that companies treat consumers, and brands are beginning to make real commitments to promote equality and diversity in any way they can.

But this much is clear:

The way we talk about diversity is inadequate, and that’s where intersectionality comes into play.

For example, while food preferences and entertainment create more of a cultural connection for younger Black Americans, their older counterparts are more likely to identify with advertising that speaks to their personal and religious values. 

And this experience isn’t unique to the Black community. Every racial and ethnic group experiences different connections to their culture based on their age in ways that are unique to that group. 

Take Asian American Gen Zs, who are much more likely than Asian American baby boomers to find a religious connection to their heritage than Black Americans. 

All of this goes to show that although our cultural experiences are unique to us, a set of intersecting factors that make up our identity can explain how we see the world. 

Distinguishing between cultural representation and visibility

What consumers are looking for in advertising varies greatly, but there’s even more of a distinction between ads that represent cultural ideas and those that promote the visibility of celebrities who are seen to reflect the target audience.   

For proper representation, marketers need to tell stories that show an adept understanding of culture, language, family dynamics, values, preferences, and so on.

Whereas visibility requires less of a cultural story, instead offering consumers a reflection of themselves in prominent media.

This can be especially important for groups who feel most underrepresented in the images they see on TV, online, and elsewhere in advertising.

While both ideas are essential to multicultural marketing, they have varying importance for each racial and ethnic group, and differ largely by age.

While older Black Americans report a stronger desire for advertising that reflects their culture, younger generations respond best to visibility in advertising targeting them.

For Hispanics and Asian Americans, across all generations the representation of culture appears slightly more important than mere visibility.

Together this shows the challenge standing in front of marketers and businesses trying to appeal to multicultural groups in America. Visibility, through the use of celebrities or influencers, is clearly more appealing to younger consumers. For most age groups, however, the successful reflection of cultural themes carries more weight.

Visibility without true cultural understanding misses the mark. Further exploration into how specific generations connect with their culture and identity is key to communicating with consumers on their level.

Click to access our connecting the dots 2021 report

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