Eric Schaal

What does a botched black Barbie have in common with mac & cheese ads aimed at Latino consumers? They both represent the efforts of brands and marketers to reach a multicultural audience, with varying degrees of success.

In a lively keynote on ad:tech's opening day in New York, Martin Enriquez of Socialmetrix and Matias Perel of Latin3 joined Sederrick Raphiel of The Design Factory to discuss the state of multicultural marketing within digital advertising. In an industry that often stumbles when reaching for the growing buying power of minority consumers, there were many insights for attendees to absorb at the Javits Center Wednesday afternoon.

Cultural authenticity takes more than a tan

Raphiel, principal and creative director of The Design Factory, put the state of the industry in terms everyone could understand. Of all the advertising money spent toward different cultures, a paltry 2 percent aims for African American consumers. That figure sounds especially small when, as Raphiel noted, this culture has so much influence on the style of mainstream America at large.

Raphiel brought up the first attempt to craft a Barbie for African American consumers. Instead of altering the doll's features and body type, the change amounted to little more than a tanning of Barbie's skin. The result was a flop for the first black Barbie.

Raphiel said he believed advertisers and brands need to think about the greater good of the country as well as tapping into markets that could deliver higher revenues. The Latino members on the panel reminded the audience of how much money was at stake.

Trillions are on the table

Socialmetrix's Martin Enriquez noted there is $1.4 trillion being spent by Latino consumers annually in the US. Taking that enormous figure into account, Enriquez said it's an important step for companies to commit to an overall marketing strategy aimed at Latinos. When done right, there are many rewards to reap.

Matias Perel of Latin3 used the analogy of "two worlds" as he played a video from Univision highlighting the dual nature of many Latin Americans today. They may be into futbol as much as football; they may like cheeseburgers as much as carne asada. This demographic may baffle marketers because of the complexities involved, but the video mentioned a very important point: Latinos make up the fastest growing segment of young people in the US.

The companies now on the right track

The panel's moderator asked each member to give an example of the companies getting multicultural marketing right to some degree, as well as who's getting it wrong. Perel praised State Farm for its inventive, authentic approach to Latin culture in promotions; Enriquez said he liked how the dairy industry's "Glass Half Full" milk campaign reached out to different audiences; and Raphiel said ESPN and Lexus were both targeting the African American consumer admirably.

Was there any brand failing at the effort? Raphiel offered one for the audience.

"Who I think is doing a horrible job – a horrible job – is BMW," Raphiel said. "African Americans buy BMWs more than any other car brand and they advertise [to this market] zero percent."

Many brands have their work cut out for them on the multicultural front. From the looks of the data, to the victor will go considerable spoils.

This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest, longest-running digital marketing and technology event. Check out for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.