About six years ago, I was at the U.S. headquarters of a major international corporation, located in the southeast. I was there as part of a pitch team. The advertising agency I was with was attempting to earn this corporation’s portion of their marketing business targeted to the U.S. Hispanic consumer. The executives we were presenting to were generally warm and friendly, except one guy. Let’s call him Bill.
Bill was annoyed by his corporation’s decision to invest in minority markets. Bill made it clear by his inattentiveness that he was disinterested in, if not outright offended by our presentation. We were well into an impassioned and nuanced explanation of the Hispanic experience in the United States. While we attempted to explain the many dimensions of Hispanic culture, from the colors, foods and flavors to the asymmetrical use of language and media, Bill suddenly slammed down his Blackberry on the conference room table and yelled out in his southern accent, “When do ya just become a freakin’ American?!”
(Insert long awkward silence here).
Since that fateful day, I can’t help but wonder, “What is an American and when do you become one?” Bill had clearly defined parameters in his mind as to what an American is and he was pretty adamant that Hispanics, and I suspect any minority group, are not it. Perhaps more importantly, who choses who we are? It’s a question of identity, power and control.
And as I widen the lens and witness the demographic shifts impacting politics and business I ask you, are marketers and politicians tasked with understanding who we are or out to ensure we become what they want us to be?
By the way, we won the business, despite Bill.