YOU may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, as Bob Dylan put it, but it seems that Madison Avenue needed a census taker.
As results from the 2010 census continue to be released, the changing demographic makeup of the American consumer market is increasingly a topic for discussion — and action — among advertisers and agencies. One trend to emerge is known as cross-cultural marketing, aimed at a general market that may be more of a mosaic than a melting pot.
Cross-cultural marketing is, as the term suggests, aimed across demographic groups to appeal to consumer similarities rather than differences. By contrast, traditional multicultural marketing is directed at specific demographic groups like Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, women or gay and lesbian consumers.
One of the largest global agencies, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, has formed a unit, OgilvyCulture, that specializes in cross-cultural marketing. British Airways and Ikea are among the initial clients of the unit, which has also provided consulting services to advertisers like Eastman Kodak, Kimberly-Clark and Unilever.
OgilvyCulture, which had a “soft launch” in November, is to get an official send-off on Monday with a daylong conference, titled “Preparing for the New General Market,” at the Ogilvy & Mather world headquarters on the West Side of Manhattan.
“This starts from the kind of firm we want to be in the future,” said John Seifert, chairman and chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather North America, and is meant to respond to “extraordinary changes.”
“Instead of thinking of discrete segments in a multicultural world,” he said, “we’re saying the new reality is that it’s more of a cross-cultural world, a mash-up of cultures.”
In seeking “deeper understanding of new cross-cultural realities,” Mr. Seifert said, OgilvyCulture is looking to the “diversity and inclusion” employee networks at Ogilvy & Mather, which include Black Diaspora, LatinRed, OgilvyPride, RedLotus and Women’s Leadership.
That is important, Mr. Seifert said, because “if there has been a weakness in the marketing communications industry generally, it’s that the makeup of agencies is not reflective” of the consumers to whom they advertise. (“Red” appears in the names of some employee groups because it is the agency color, and the favorite color of the founder, David Ogilvy.)
OgilvyCulture “represents an effort to build on” the work of those internal organizations “and take it out of the agency as an external-facing agenda,” said Jeffrey Bowman, who heads OgilvyCulture as its practice lead while also serving as director for marketing strategy at Ogilvy & Mather.
“As a practice, its success is dependent on a core group of people making connections internally and externally,” he said. “We’re feeling our way; I’ve said to everyone this is going to be messy for a while.”
Asked about the multicultural approach, as offered by scores of agencies that create campaigns aimed at ethnic and demographic groups, Mr. Bowman said: “I do not intend to market this as an alternative to the specialty agencies. We accept the reality there are some clients who will say, ‘We have a general-market agency and a Hispanic agency.’ ”
Ogilvy & Mather will still operate multicultural units like OgilvyRojo, which creates ads aimed at Spanish-speaking consumers, and OgilvyNoor, which specializes in building brands that appeal to Muslim consumers.
“We’ve been saying for years there’s a new America,” said Howard Buford, president and chief executive at Prime Access in New York, an agency devoted to marketing to three demographic groups: Hispanic, African-American and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (L.G.B.T.) consumers.