Why Organizations Who Don’t Reframe Their Thinking Will Fade

Over the past several years, a great amount of attention has been focused on Total Market — what it is, what it is not, and how it impacts brands and agencies moving forward. Overall, the concept remains cloudy and misunderstood, with considerable misinterpretation and misuse of its theory and practice.

Jeffrey L. Bowman, while at Ogilvy & Mather (a general market agency) reintroduced the topic of Total Marketing in 2010 at an advertising and communications conference (1), among a membership made up of brand marketers with agency partners.  Because of this, the interpretation from attendees and the rest of the industry was that the object of a Total Market approach was an advertising outcome. This created confusion among brands, which believed they were investing in an advertising solution, rather than a systemized business growth strategy that embraces the new marketplace and the new workforce.

To set the record straight: Total Market was derived from an idea that was presented in 1964 by McKinsey & Company (2), a management consultancy that facilitates change management and has no affiliation with the advertising industry. Forty-six years later, Jeffrey expanded on this business concept, developing insight, systemization and tools for organizations, so they could achieve marketplace and workplace readiness. Despite countless attempts to clarify the intent and execution of Total Market, gross misinterpretations of the approach continued to exist.

As a result, the first wave of companies that pursued Total Market, from 2011 to 2013, often failed. Many abandoned the idea because they didn’t start by putting in place the infrastructure to support the deep changes that Total Market demands. Their focus was on how to acquire ethnic and female consumers rather than how to engage with and retain them in the marketplace and workplace. These companies often viewed Total Market as a way to create efficiencies and reduce costs, rather than to drive equitable connections, relevant content and make their messaging more effective.

Brands that don’t embrace the New Majority reality will fade. For this reason, Total Market cannot be an afterthought or executed in a haphazard way. It must be the foundation of your thinking at the inception of a campaign or strategy and it must carry through the entire strategic process.  An example of a company that got it right is Toyota.  As the first wave of companies that embraced Total Market floundered, Toyota, in 2013, announced a new approach, dubbed “Total Toyota,” (3)  that hit the correct note.

Brands that don’t embrace the New Majority reality will fade.

Previously, Toyota used a standard, linear approach where its agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, primarily set strategy for the General Market, while three other agencies handled the AfricanAmerican, Asian and Hispanic advertising. Saatchi’s General Market strategy flowed down to the ethnic agencies who would then work in relative isolation. With Total Toyota, all four agencies work collaboratively from the start to develop the focus, purpose, model and proposition of their Total Market campaigns and strategy. While previous marketing efforts were aimed at finding differences between the various ethnic cultural segments, the Total Market approach uncovered similarities and nuances.

The result has been more cross-cultural messaging; creative that is intertwined with cultural cues; greater media impact; and deeper connection with customers. This succeeded because Toyota did a remarkable job developing what we call a cross-cultural communication platform, as well as changed their procurement structure to be in line with the Total Market approach, which meant opening up to agencies and professional service providers with crosscultural led insights, rather than siloed, expertise.

The result has been more cross-cultural messaging; creative that is intertwined with cultural cues; greater media impact; and deeper connection with customers

Admittedly, this approach can require some tough adjustments. For example, an agency that in the past was responsible for, say, the entire United States Hispanics (USH) AfricanAmerican budget, might find that it no longer handles the entire production of TV ads aimed at that segment. Ultimately, though, Total Market does away with agencies competing for production dollars, and mandates collaboration on the “big idea” so they work together to use client dollars most effectively.

To reach this point, companies and the agencies they use must think differently, act differently and they must speak differently. If an agency still uses terms like “general market”, “multicultural” or “ethnic” marketing, they are employing outdated thinking that relegates the New Majority to a smaller, niche segment, which it no longer is. If a marketer’s response to Total Market is to boost the marketing budget devoted to an ethnic segment from 10% to 15%, they do not understand the deeper ramifications of a New World Order.

The New Majority requires disruptive changes. At the same time, too many companies still think of Total Market in terms of whether they “get it” or “don’t get it” – a black-and-white conception of a complex situation, which doesn’t help anyone.

We are entering an age when the workplace already encompasses people who came to adulthood having had a multiracial president for a third of their lifetimes. Times have long since changed, and the rate of change will only become more profound. To be ready for the future, companies and marketers will need to tear down old structures and thinking that are rooted in an America that no longer exists.


(1) Association of National Advertisers (ANA)

(2) REFRAME:  The Marketplace – The Total Market Approach To Reaching the New Majority

(3) Advertising Age – December 18, 2013

Interested in learning more about Total Market industry vertical and what you can do to future-proof your brand? Visit Reframe to download the industry’s first report on the State Of The Total Market Industry Vertical.