When the Melting Pot Melts Away

Can businesses successfully market to a single “youth culture”?

The Futures Company, a research and consulting outfit, this week served up an interesting answer: Absolutely not.

“The Millennial generation (consumers aged 16-32) is characterized by both its ethnic diversity and its openness to the influences of other cultures and ethnicities,” the firm said in a report. “Because of this, many marketers are under the impression that Millennials have developed a sort of hybrid culture that represents an amalgamation of Hispanic, African American, Non-Hispanic White and Asian influences.

“According to this point of view, Millennials can be marketed to as a cohort with relatively little attention needing to be paid to their individual ethnic heritages. This conception of Millennials neglects the fact that they retain high levels of attachment to their birth cultures, particularly the Hispanics, Asians and African Americans.”

The analysis goes on to note how challenging it can be for businesses to strike the right balance when targeting young customers, “as there will be times when they will be more receptive to targeted ethnic marketing and other times when a more inclusive approach will work best.”

Peter Drucker certainly understood the importance of customer segmentation. He pointed, for example, to the emergence in the 1950s of specialty magazines (Sports Illustrated and TV Guide) versus the mass general-interest magazines (Collier’sLookLife) that had been popular in the decades before then. “All these magazines of the post-war generation apply basic editorial, circulation and advertising concepts which the mass-circulation magazines first developed,” he wrote. “But they apply them in accordance with the new population structure, to a demographic segment characterized by a common interest.”

Photo credit: Pink Sherbert Photography

Drucker, too, would have appreciated the point about people’s penchant for retaining their cultural distinctiveness. Indeed, when in 1978 he published his autobiography, Adventures of a Bystander, Drucker recognized that the more accepting America had became, the more it allowed individual races and cultures to express their unique identities.

“Now when Jewish boys are living with Italian girls without anybody’s paying attention; when Irish accountants are taking over as chief executives of ‘Protestant’ companies in Fundamentalist Midwestern cities; and when ‘discrimination’ may mean appointing a Jewish male rather than a black female to a faculty position—we can safely stress ethnic diversity, exult in ‘Roots’ and with impunity deny that the ‘melting pot’ ever existed,” Drucker wrote.

What do you think: Is America more a melting pot or a tossed salad—and what does that mean for business?