Tanning—and Why Marketers Should Embrace It

Millennials are often touted as the most important generation, at least for today’s marketers. There’s a lot of truth to this, and there will be much more as more millennials continue to reach the zenith of their buying power. Marketers have grown increasingly adept at tailoring everything from their messages to the channels that carry them to fit millennial media consumption habits. But marketers must also acknowledge the increasingly diverse cultural and ethnic makeup of America’s future population.

Between now and the year 2060 the U.S. population will be 57% non-white, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s a completely different world from the America of 1960, where whites made up 85% of the nation’s population. This shifting of the mainstream American demographic, and its associated effects on culture and commerce, is a core tenet of tanning—a concept popularized by Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of brand marketing agency Translation, and author of The Tanning of America. Tanning refers to the proliferation of aspects of black American culture such as fashion, hip-hop, language, and sports, throughout mainstream America, and how this cultural crossover has shaped the identity of modern America.

“Regardless of their genetics, the millennials that are so influential today because of their trendsetting and buying power have quite a bit of culture that is influenced by African Americans,” says Cesar Melgoza, CEO at business intelligence company Geoscape. “The message to marketers here is to understand, acknowledge, and embrace tanning. Be careful not to alienate people.”

Executing on the concept of tanning will require finesse and nuance unique to each brand. However, there are a few common—and essential—points that marketers must start from.

Acknowledge tanning

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: Marketers have to acknowledge that America has changed and will continue to change. The effects of America’s tanning will continue to reverberate throughout every business in every vertical. No business will be immune to these sweeping cultural and demographic shifts, and in truth, none ever have been.

“Throughout American history, African Americans have influenced popular culture, and the larger [national] culture. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to identify with American culture without the African American component,” Melgoza says. “One way or another you’re probably influenced by hip-hop or rock music, or sports on a psychographic level. This whole tanning concept will become more important in the future and will include more Hispanics, and even Asians.”

Reflect the new mainstream in the organization

Quotas are rarely a good thing, and that’s especially true when it comes to diversifying a team or organization. That said, marketers should strive for as much ethnically diverse talent as possible within their team.

“The talent needs to know the culture, especially in advertising and marketing. Once you understand who you want to target, you need to understand what’s happening within their culture today, not 20 years ago. The talent is part of how you get [this] right,” Melgoza explains.

Be bold

Millennials, and to a perhaps greater extent generations Y and Z, are coming into commercial power at a time of high cultural and ethical convergence. Just as marketers must embrace the younger generation’s’ reliance on digital media, so too must marketing, in general, reflect the reality of today’s diverse cultural influencers.

“Consumers are ready for real, genuine communication these days. Whether it be a General Mills ad, or a Miller Kors ad, people will respect [brands] that are bold and get it right,” Melgoza says. “Don’t be afraid to integrate race in [your] marketing.This is the new mainstream. Why would you not want to get it right? This is where to lead, not be an afterthought.”

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