"The Room Where It Happens" How AIMM is Igniting a Cultural Reckoning

Multiculturalism exists in many countries but embracing it and tapping into its power has been a systemic challenge across the world. The Caribbean represents one of the most dynamic mix of cultures in the world, with over 59 living languages, capturing the traditions of Indigenous, African, European, Indian, and Chinese populations.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (pictured at top) captured the story of a historical figure from the Caribbean who embraced "boisterous multiculturalism", driven by his personal experiences -- born on the British island of Nevis, raised on the Danish island of St. Croix, and attending a school run by a Sephardic Jewish woman who taught him Hebrew. This immersion into a diversity of cultures and rich mosaic of thought is what is driving two other change-agents who, like Miranda, are using their craft to get more multicultural people into the room where it happens.

Gilbert Dávila (pictured below), president and CEO at DMI, a leading multicultural agency, Lisette Arsuaga (pictured below), co-president and COO also from DMI Consulting, and Carlos Santiago, president of Santiago Solutions Group are co-founders of The Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM).

They coincidentally also share Miranda's Puerto Rican heritage. The Alliance is focused on harnessing the power of cultural understanding in our industry to drive advertising and programming effectiveness. Focusing on the dignity and equal rights of every person, they have focused on ending the "age-old virus of racism" in this country. Organized under the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) with the ANA Educational Foundation (read our profile of AEF here), which serves as the bridge that connects the advertising, marketing and academic communities, Dávila emphasizes the role of AIMM is to "uplift and prioritize all things multicultural and inclusive and help companies and brands drive growth in an increasingly diverse country".

Dávila, Arsuaga and Santiago hail from prestigious backgrounds. Arsuaga worked with legends like Oprah and Maya Angelou in her role as a strategic communication and educational expert; Dávila has led brands at blue-chip organizations, like P&G,

Coca Cola, and Disney. Santiago founded and led a $3 billion multicultural and diversity business unit for NYNEX-Bell Atlantic, Verizon's precursor. Tapping into their deep expertise, they recognize the importance of strong, purpose-driven partnerships and expanding their capabilities and scale of impact by creating valuable alliances.

One key partner is Elliot Lum who runs growth and community at the ANA Education Foundation. He is tasked with bridging the academic, industry and talent community together for the AEF. Specifically, he is spearheading an initiative to bring the whole industry together in a far-reaching and consequential alliance around key entry-level diverse talent commitments involving AIMM and working closely Dávila, Santiago and Arsuaga, as well as Bob Liodice, ANA president & CEO and Bill Duggan, ANA Group executive vice president.

The AIMM team know that the road to true inclusion and belonging is going to take deep cultural transformation, measurable and decisive action, and courageous demonstrable leadership.

The 7-point pledge launched by the ANA and AIMM, garnering 600 industry signatures, provides clarity and an urgent call to action on a number of fronts: from equity in representation to removal of bias to inclusion and accuracy of data.

Dávila who has served as chair of the ANA's Multicultural Marketing and Diversity committee for over 20 years, does point to some progress, in particular around awareness and recognition of the impact multicultural customers can have on growth.

The significant disconnect, however, is the fact that despite this acknowledgement, only 16% of marketers infuse culture into multicultural communications. Inspired by the old adage "what gets measured, gets done," the Cultural Insights Impact Measure (CIIM) was created as an "industry leading metric that validates the impact and effectiveness of cultural insights in ads and programming, making a direct correlation between culture and business performance". According to Arsuaga, the higher the measure the higher the impact on brand perception, ad effectiveness and purchase intent. CIIM has applications across advertisers, creative agencies, media planning agencies and media networks and content developers. Importantly for content creators, CIIM has also proven that cultural relevance in programming drives audience viewership preferences.

However, all these results rely on having early research on customer needs, preferences, and behavior in the first place. As Arsuaga explains "there is a breakdown in accurately capturing the voice of the multicultural customer in research studies and correctly classifying them in online and offline data," which in turn means that marketers are relying on erroneous and misleading data to make decisions on advertising and programming content. When decisions are made, taking into account particular multicultural customer groups, it is driven by the zeitgeist of the moment. For example, prior to the George Floyd murder, companies were focusing on the xenophobic backlash towards Asian-Americans, triggered by the pandemic. When Black Lives Matter became an urgent cry for help, companies pivoted yet again.

The inability to serve the needs of multiple constituents at once, is driven by a number of constraints -- the most important one being a lack of true understanding of the issues, due to a lack of representation at the decision-making table across agencies, clients, suppliers, trade associations and creators. To galvanize the industry to action, AIMM launched #SeeAll as an industry-wide movement amplifying equality efforts by simultaneously ensuring the accurate representation of Multicultural (Hispanic, Black, Asian) and Inclusive (LGBTQ and People with Disabilities) communities in ads, programming and brand plans as measured by the Cultural Insights Impact Measure (CIIM™).

A recent PQ Media study commissioned by AIMM, highlights the fact that only 5.2% of overall U.S. media spending is targeting multicultural audiences, underscores the significant heavy lifting still needed to get to the 40% target -- which today represents the percentage of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American customers in the total population.

To achieve this more balanced representation is going to take deliberate collaboration and precision planning -- most critically it will need a lingua franca that cohesively brings everything together -- and that common narrative in the world of business is Growth. As Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G, reminds us "companies need to be force for good and a force for growth".

The ANA's Growth Agenda captures the complex capabilities, deliverables and priorities of a growth-driven marketing organization, creating a cohesive flywheel structure driven by four priorities that shape the agenda:

  • Brand Experience, Creativity and Media
  • Date, Technology and Measurement
  • Talent and Marketing Organization
  • Society and Sustainability

As an arm of the ANA, AIMM continues to align with these 4 main pillars of the Growth Agenda as it shapes its 2021 strategies and priorities. By developing a D&I maturity model with best practice leaders across client-side marketers, agencies, suppliers, and trade associations, AIMM will provide clear measurement metrics for each company to track progress and monitor learnings and wins. This important progress will be celebrated through the creation of a comprehensive Diversity index, providing organizations transparency on how their efforts are moving the needle.

As AIMM continues to make inroads into changing the paradigm, the alliance itself has relied on the power of diverse voices for its own influencer campaign during this Emmy Awards season. The PSA spot opens with a montage of celebrity faces and the inspiring and evocative statement, "We are here." Throughout the spot, celebrity talent recognize the effort Hollywood has made, but challenge the entertainment industry to "stand up against stereotypes by embracing authentic cultural representation and urging marketers and changemakers to #SeeALL". And among the celebrities, we hear the voice of a renowned multicultural advocate once more -- Lin Manuel Miranda reminding us all to "come together so we can create waves of change."

Our collective mandate is to not only embrace these waves of change, but to urgently propel the waves of systemic transformation by dismantling the industry practices, policies and entrenched biases that are preventing us from celebrating the beauty of our differences as a multicultural America. And yes, it even means questioning a revered Founding Father on the alleged inconsistency of word versus deed. AIMM is bravely undoing centuries of hypocrisy and inequality through the power of cultural inclusion, authentic belonging, and purposeful growth – this is the future we want for all.

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