Acento Advertising’s Donnie Broxson's career has taken him across a variety of client and agency side roles, with a focus on communications with Latino audiences. He took some time to speak with AdForum and give his perspective on issues with the current way marketers handle segmentation, the new challenges brands face in an increasingly diverse market, and Acento’s unique, cross-cultural approach to understanding audiences.
So, how did you end up leading a Hispanic focused ad shop?
I actually grew up in a very rural community in Texas raising sheep, and I knew there had to be more out there. When I went away to college I fell in love with Latin American culture. I ended up getting a degree in Latin American studies and international relations, which set me on my path. After that, I spent a few years working in refugee education and then a year in South America. Then I turned my attention toward marketing.
Seeing how everything fits into a larger societal shift. Understanding how communities are interfacing and overlapping. Figuring out how we can harness communication in a way that makes it meaningful across audiences universally, and in those very nuanced, culturally specific spaces. This is where my passion lies.
Was moving to Acento much of a cultural adjustment from your past companies?
Everywhere I've worked, my focus has been on the multicultural audiences. Even in my most recent role before this on the client side. I was overseeing the general market, as well as all communications across specific segments. This led to the focus being on how I can bring those together, finding a way to balance and getting the most out of every communication dollar.
While I was on the client side, I was depending heavily on Acento, so it was a natural progression to join the agency. What drew me to them was a specific openness and collaborative spirit I saw that allowed for a discussion across segments that really raises the level of our communications.
So how do you define cross-cultural? And how does it differ from multicultural marketing?
Cross-cultural is a way to go deep into a specific segment while also looking holistically at the diversity of our audiences so that we seek the universal, but not at the expense of the specific. To have a deep understanding of both, and then filter it until you get the true human motivations. By doing that, we're able to find the shared values, the points of intersection, and also the truly unique aspects as well. Then by addressing them with care and respect, we can pull out what's going to make something most meaningful and resonant with any specific group, while having it all come together into one voice.
The biggest distinction that I see in a truly cross-cultural approach is that we stop thinking in terms of ethnic segments and the general market. The general market no longer exists. 40% of the U.S. population is from ‘diverse’ segments at this point. We should be looking at ‘English language, Caucasian’ as just another segment in the mix.
Have you seen that approach to these different segments shift and evolve over the years?
Anytime you wanted to talk about Hispanic marketing, you had to start the conversation by building a case for why it needed to be done at all. Then, when you were building that case, it was built around linguistics. Linguistics always came first, and culture came second. I think that has shifted not just in Hispanic marketing, but across Asian as well. A huge portion of audiences are bilingual or using different languages than we were originally focused on. The shift is forcing us to put language into a tactical space where it’s empowering communication, but not causing resonance.
I think this is something that African American marketing and advertising got to sooner out of necessity because the language was the same as the general market. Marketers realized that you had to address the cultural nuances, behaviors, and decision triggers differently for this audience. Beyond African Americans, you also have Hispanic and Asian Americans who are communicating linguistically in English, but culturally in a much more complex and nuanced way that is not aligned with the general market.
Layered on to this is the appreciation of diversity among these audiences. We have fusion happening between different groups. Communities that used to live in various siloed specific neighborhoods are overlapping, sharing groceries, and sharing media outlets. Our communications no longer live in the vacuums that we imagined 20 or 30 years ago. Now, when addressing any segment, you must take into account all of the adjacent segments.
So, how can brands kind of engage these cultures authentically without coming off as an opportunist?
You can take a spot, change the music and switch the language, but it won’t match that big, beautiful anthem spot you put out and spend half of your production budget on. If those things aren't working together, the consumer can feel it. Even if they can’t put their finger on it, they feel that disparity, they feel that disconnect. And that's a distraction from your core message.
The biggest challenge for brands and marketers is to not just see diversity as a marketing tactic. Bring things that are meaningful to the humans in those communities, those work in your company, then connect that into a persona and a belief system. That is what a consumer wants to be engaged with. They want to see you're involved in their community and in the world at large.
On that topic, are there any causes that you or the agency are passionate about and have you been able to do any work kind of related to those causes?
Valuing diversity, the very thing we're talking about is really at the heart of our agency. We’ve established a culture lab within the agency, which is a way for us to take a topic and pressure test it against multiple cultures, looking for how to make it resonate broadly, but also with these different segments. We look for those little magic moments that just organically arise when cultures intersect.
Also, we’ve been looking at the lack of trust in institutions and your fellow man that's developed in the U.S. It’s undermining even things as basic as democracy that we take for granted. A focus on that has led us to volunteer our time for a program that’s informing people about the value of democracy. It's called the ‘Purple Project for Democracy’.
It's looking at democracy as a shared value that cuts across cultures, regions, and individual creeds. We have a voice here which is incredibly important to marginalized communities. So, we've taken on helping them out with some of their Hispanic efforts and in the digital and social ground specifically. It also provides us an opportunity to do some very fun creative that touches on something we're passionate about.