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Lack of diversity will hurt your bottom line, marketers warned

Twin Cities marketing pros recently got a blunt warning: Failure to diversify will cost you dollars and cents.

There are plenty of sociological, feel-good reasons for increasing diversity in the workforce. But Twin Cities marketing pros recently got a blunt warning from some prominent local executives: Failure to diversify will cost you dollars and cents.

The straight talk came last week in a panel discussion of race and age in marketing sponsored by The BrandLab, an industry-supported nonprofit that guides students of diverse backgrounds into marketing careers.

“You’re going to see more and more agencies pushed by their clients” to show diversity in agency ranks, said Mike Fernandez, vice president of corporate affairs for Cargill. Agencies that aren’t diverse may lose business opportunities.

Carla Berril Vernón, director of Family Favorites Cereals at General Mills, was even more direct.

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“It’s not about business inclusion because it’s beautiful,” Vernón said. “Studies show that the best business results come from diverse agencies. You better scramble to get to the table.”

Vernón told a story about a teleconference with one of her agencies. The agency was casting an ad that would feature a scientist and an assistant. Both needed to be Caucasian, the creative director explained, because in a 30-second spot, the audience needs familiar archetypes for immediate understanding.

Never having met her in person, the creative director didn’t know Vernón was of African-American and Latin descent. “And he certainly didn’t know that my mother has a Ph.D. in microbiology!” she added. The casting was changed.

Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing for Caribou Coffee, said companies need agencies that can provide insights into the many diverse consumer groups that need to be reached today.

“The days of one product, one audience – that’s over,” Martel said. “Today, it’s product and then:  audience one, audience two, audience 1,000. I’m not going to go to seven agencies and tell my story seven times. I want one agency that can give me all the key insights.”

Mike Lescarbeau, CEO of Carmichael Lynch, kicked off the event by showing a Volkswagen TV spot that raised some eyebrows when it ran during this year’s Super Bowl.

In it, an office worker from Minnesota puzzles his co-workers by speaking in a Jamaican accent. At the end, the oddity is explained: his new VW Beetle made him happy.

The ad was criticized as racist by some when it ran, although many others enjoyed it, including Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment. Lescarbeau tried to spark a discussion of the ad, but few in the crowd were willing to speak up. There are some hot potatoes that people still aren’t willing to pick up.