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Requiem for the Total Market: We Hardly Knew Thee

POSTED BY Admin POSTED IN In the News

United by their mutual skepticism about attempts to define “Total Market,” indeed wary of the concept itself, Pedro de Córdoba /  Eventus  and David Morse /  New American Dimensions began a regular correspondence via e-mail and text about a month ago. The following is a distillation:

Pedro:  I was a skeptic about this Total Market thing from day one. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, but in my book it was off to a rocky start from the beginning. Just try to read the torturous definition of what it is and you’ll see why I think this definition had to go the way of the Dodo bird.

David:  I agree that Total Market’s destiny is to die a slow death.   What amazes me most is that it has lived this long.  It is a catchy phrase without meaning, a nebulous idea with ambiguous content.

Pedro:  I’m still perplexed by the need to suddenly create and define a total market approach to begin with. What was the driving imperative to do so?

David:  I think part of it was defensiveness on the part of multicultural agencies that saw more and more general market agencies encroaching on their turf.  But part of it was a reaction to the silo-like approach of clients.  Back in the day, so many companies had their general market agency, with their Hispanic, African American and Asian American agencies off in the wings.  They fought over dollars and hardly spoke to each other.  There was a legitimate need for integration and consistency.

Pedro:  I suspect the consensus necessary to coin this approach in a manner that is satisfactory to all involved. I quote “a broad coalition of clients, agencies and associations” competing and adversarial entities by definition, is the seed of its own undoing.

David:  To attempt to define it was an exercise in futility.  You can’t define that which was fancy from the inception.

Pedro: But maybe all that effort by this broad coalition is not entirely lost.  Lately I’ve seen a different term out there being batted around:  New Mainstream.  While I have a feeling I’ve heard it before, the first “aha moment” for me was when I read Nielsen’s latest report, “The Multicultural Edge: Rising Super Consumers.” Then I saw it again in Adage.com.

David: I have trouble with the term “new mainstream.”  What is the old mainstream?  White heterosexuals?  As if such an entity existed.  Are African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans similar enough to form a targetable market segment?  White people certainly never were.  Just look at how divisively white people vote.

Pedro: For anyone like me with a remotely rebellious streak, the word mainstream is cringe-worthy and conjures images of country club guys in plaid pants. This is not the image that I would want to be associated with.

David: And where do emerging segments fall:  Middle Easterners, Africans, people of mixed heritage?  They are changing the national landscape but somehow seem to elude mention.  America is becoming too heterogeneous, too nuanced and too complex in its demographic and ideological character to merit such simplicity.   We see it in the realm of politics.  Why not in marketing?

Pedro: But this “mainstream” sounded different. I went back to read how Nielsen defined the term, which they got from the title of a book.  I quote:

“New Mainstream* is used to describe the emerging multicultural U.S. marketplace. As the population shifts, and the old mainstream becomes more diverse, it is no longer a valid business strategy to assume that ethnicity and race will eventually become irrelevant and dissolve into a homogenous “general market.” Instead, marketers should adjust and update their efforts to address a new mainstream marketplace that reflects and acknowledges consumers of all races and ethnicities as the source of new social trends and business growth and develop activation strategies based on this reality.”

Until you pointed out the whole New Mainstream vs. Old Mainstream dichotomy, I thought all that needed to be done was to add the Anglo market to the mix and we had ourselves a definition. But you have a very valid point and so back to the drawing board we go.

David:  I like the Nielsen definition.  It’s ambitious but not pretentious.  It accurately and succinctly describes what is going on in the marketplace.

Pedro:  We recently heard from industry stalwart Luis Miguel Messianu, who in my opinion added another nail to the coffin of the Total Market Approach definition when he very eloquently described having an issue with the word “Total” and his deep aversion and well–founded distrust for anything “totalitarian.” As the son of Romanian immigrants raised in Mexico, his distaste for the term in well-founded.

David:  I agree that Luis Miguel is on to something.  There is something totalitarian about the term.  Maybe not in the Mussolini sense, but more like Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.”

Pedro:  Luis Miguel went on to register his preference, and call it “All-inclusive Marketing” which while being technically correct, sounds too much like a Caribbean resort package to me. So, like Goldilocks I am still in search for the perfect terminology to define something that is constantly in flux.

David:  All I ask is for real dialog, not catchy phrases or buzzwords.  As a marketing community, we face the challenge of interpreting a yet manifest national identity. We are confronted with identifying consumer segments that are yet evolving and defining themselves.  We might be mistaken in the assumptions we make.  But, at the very least, we should not shirk from the task of making true sense of it all.