Editor’s note: This post was originally written during the primary season, but for some reason fell to the cutting room floor. We’ve decided to publish it in its original form, as looking back, it was right on the money. The election of Mr. Obama as President has profound and global implications – for us as citizens and marketers. Please also refer to our post on the impact of currency fluctuation and marketing investment; the rise of the dollar has benefited global marketers as we predicted.
It may be time for U.K. and European companies to reassess cultural assumptions regarding their communications within the United States. We are witnessing a profound shift in demography and attitudes, perhaps more profound than the election of our first baby boomer president, Bill Clinton. The returns in the South Carolina Democratic primary held no surprise in terms of the black vote; it was strongly in support of Obama. But the fact is that younger voters, those 30 and under, were also swayed by his subtlety of intellect, and messages of hope and inclusion. Super Tuesday primary results, which have propelled Obama to the lead toward the nomination held plenty of surprises to political pundits and pollsters alike.
As baby boomers move into retirement, they grab headlines for their purchasing power and staying power – and do remain a force in our market and politics. But they are akin to a setting sun. If you take an intermediate to long term view, as significant brand owners must, their influence and interest in current affairs and setting trends is waning.
The America of 10 years from now will be a very different place than it is today. Teenagers of 2008 will be advancing their careers (and those now in their 20’s and 30’s will be running the show). This cohort is more eco-conscious and service-oriented, and less biased than any generation before it (those who grew up in the 60s may bridle at that suggestion, but it is fruit of their struggle, not a discount of it). They also understand that the world is a much smaller place than it ever was, and this creates opportunities for brands to extend their transatlantic marketing reach; this generation will be more open than any before it to becoming global consumers and citizens.
So what inspired this post? As someone who became aware during the latter years of the civil rights movement, I can’t help but be moved by images of a black candidate for President of the United States standing in front of series of mostly white audiences celebrating a series of stunning electoral victories.
While I am moved emotionally, the context for Swelled Head readers also is striking. Thinking larger, many of the U.S. leading men in Hollywood also are black. Wesley Snipes, James Foxx, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman – these men lead many of the largest grossing movies. They set trends and make money for producers of their movies. Their endorsements, paid and unpaid, move markets (think Ray-Ban and “Men in Black”).
Black executives loom large in financial services and entertainment as well (although still under represented as a percentage of the U.S. population, they are influential). The Oprah Winfrey Network will extend Oprah’s power and influence further into television. The presidents of American Express, Time Warner, Aetna, Sears and Symantec also are black.
The fact is that America is becoming the melting pot it promised to be. We aren’t color blind, but are becoming color-neutral. Role models are defined more by what they do and say rather than their ethnicity. And this trend is accelerating.
So what about your marketing? Are you selling to the new America? Does your advertising that targets teens and those under 30 relate to the way they see the world? Do you embrace a more inclusive worldview, or are you “traditional?” And by traditional, I mean stubbornly adhering to “the way it is done,” or “we’ll educate those Americans,” two paths to sure disaster for transatlantic brands.