Home Why Multicultural Marketing Needs Machine Learning and Facial Tracking

Why Multicultural Marketing Needs Machine Learning and Facial Tracking

Authentically and Effectively Marketing to an Increasingly Diverse America

Marketers in 2019 will find it hard to be successful without understanding the cultural transformation that’s happening in this country. Between 2012 and 2017, the US multicultural population – Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans – grew to 11.7 million people. Notably, these groups are younger and growing at a faster rate than their White counterparts. This makes multicultural marketing an essential component of all advertising campaigns.

Yet, even the most seasoned and “culturally woke” brands can have trouble navigating this cultural transformation and shifts in consumer behavior.

Furthermore, for the first time ever, more than half of kids now belong to ethnic majorities. Generation Z is the largest generation in American history. They are only 52% White, are spending their own money, and some are starting families.

A diverse, rich and multicultural world is already here and all around us. We’ve seen Spanish language ads at the Oscars, the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and Farewell, and African American television programming like ‘Insecure’ and ‘Blackish.’

This multicultural influence is having a profound effect on how consumers identify and behave.

Successful marketers will shift how their brands target new audiences. Understanding these changes is at the core of what we’re doing at Collage Group. Our AdRate technology uses facial tracking technology, machine learning, and sentiment analysis to help brands understand culture and generations by studying how brand advertising content resonates with key demographics. Marketers are already utilizing AI  and brands are undertaking multicultural marketing efforts. This is the next logical step.

Our surveying technology ranks ads on two metrics that overcome the limitations of conventional brand favorability.  Called Groundswell and Backlash, these metrics measure the percentage of the sample “flipping” their perception of a brand from negative to positive or vice versa. Groundswell is when viewers switch from a negative view of a brand to a positive one. In Backlash, the exact opposite takes place.

Facial tracking is not a new concept in multicultural marketing – but it is given new life when paired with machine learning and sentiment analysis and applied to segments that have for too long been ignored by marketing organizations. With these tools, our industry can improve prediction of audience emotions as they relate to purchase intent, ad impact, and desired outcome.

As we repeat the process with more and more ads, the algorithm becomes smarter and smarter.

Our research is finding a deep disconnect between brands and multicultural audiences. Consumers are now critical of brands and don’t like how they’re being represented: 64% of Asian, 64% of African Americans, and 52% of Hispanics  are unhappy with portrayals of their ethnic group in entertainment.

What’s more, seemingly harmless content is having the opposite effect than intended. For example, the Colgate ad ‘Close Talker’ did remarkably badly with Asian American audiences; our facial tracking technology showed a big spike in anger among this group during the “Mr Lee” scene. Any marketer would agree that it’s deeply problematic for any element of a brand’s content to invoke such strong negative emotion.

Since we began tracking cultural attitudes towards media, we have made several important observations that will help multicultural marketing:

    Previous brand solutions have focused on one-size-fits all to the “Total Market” strategies intended to appeal to all multicultural consumers, but this has not been successful, with many brands being called out on social, particularly by younger audiences. Instead, brand marketers need to understand cultural differences in order to succeed.
    An increasingly divided cultural environment separates consumption making authentic, unique, and engaging content creation challenging.
    Younger consumers are ‘breaking up’ with brands over multicultural offenses, particularly through organic, viral social media campaigns that start with a simple hashtag.

According to our projection models, taking advantage of the impact of multicultural spending growth is a brand’s best recession-proof growth strategy. In scenarios where the future economy is “stagnant”, “average” or “best,” multicultural total spending will outpace growth in non-Hispanic Whites groups. The most substantial growth in a “stagnant” economy will come from multicultural groups.

Here’s what we have found through our research utilizing machine learning and facial recognition:


African Americans have the second greatest purchasing power across multicultural groups, and yet many brands are still scrambling to fine tune their video content to accurately and properly reach people of color – particularly Black consumers.

This has led to some brands committing serious missteps – and others, like Google’s “Black Girl Magic” and Nike’s “Dream Crazy” with Colin Kapernick, showing excellent success in using authentic content to connecting to African American audiences.

Some of our recent studies around African American consumers & advertising show us that:

“All-American” Creative Can Be Risky

“American” themes have been a tried and true staple of creative for decades and while they resonate still with older Whites in particular (and for many Hispanics as well)  these same themes can produce negative responses for others. For instance, we have found that some American-themed beer commercials have angered many African-American and Asian-American respondents.

 Persistence and Exceptionalism Are Key

Key themes for African Americans combine Perseverance and a sense of feeling Outstanding, demonstrated in the determination to overcome and succeed, in spite of any odds. Two ads that revealed excellent execution on these themes included Toyota’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial, which captured the tenacity and perseverance of Toni Harris as she defies expectations.

A Focus On “Hard Work” & “Giving Back”

74% of African Americans surveyed said they believe that hard work will pay off financially (vs. 65% of Whites). What’s more, 71% of affluent African Americans agree that “my personal wealth means very little to me if I don’t give back to my community” (compared to 57% of affluent Whites surveyed).

Religion & Community Are Key

20% of African Americans say that most of their core values are rooted in religion, vs. 13% of non-African Americans.  57% say they “strongly support any movement in support of my community” versus 40% of Asian respondents, and 40% of Whites.


To help our clients understand the Hispanic market, we surveyed a sample of 800 Hispanic consumers and collected specific effects of language and cultural insights on ad performance. Here’s what we found:

Most Walk Between Both Cultures

Most hispanic consumers today are bicultural, with fastest growth among acculturated (English-dominant) and bicultural (both English and Spanish and with a dual Hispanic and American identity) segments. This is why it’s critical for brands to assess the role of language and cultural cues in setting up advertising strategies that target Hispanic audiences.

Different Elements Are Important To Different Levels of Acculturation

Ads work differently for bicultural, acculturated, or Spanish-dominant groups. Each segment requires different creative for ads to succeed. The bicultural group, for example, requires the most elements from an ad for it to be ranked highly, placing a very high level of importance on characters, music, products, humor and message. For acculturated Hispanic audiences, merely liking the product is most important for an ad to be successful.

Language Matters:

Hispanic viewers focus on different features when watching ads in Spanish and English, which can distract from the overall pitch if an ad isn’t grounded in cultural cues important to this audience. What’s more, when Spanish-dominant consumers watch Spanish-language ads, a culturally informed humor can best break through.

The bottom line is that language and culture matters a great deal, and data should lead brand marketers and ad agencies as they work through creating video content for multicultural audiences. Machine learning allows us to do this by helping us find out how ads make our audiences feel, how to use visuals in the narrative, how to incorporate norms into the story.  It allows us to take opinion and human error out of the equation and not only how not to get it wrong, but how to get to that very valuable point of the groundswell.

Thanks to this new use of technologies and the incredible use of data, one day soon (and I think we’re close), our industry will be able to create a unified set of standards that will outline what works and what doesn’t in your creative to drive purchase intent with multicultural audiences, multicultural marketing, and beyond.

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David Wellisch
Co-Founder & CEO, Collage Group

David is co-founder and CEO of Collage Group, previously known as the Latinum Network. From its inception in 2009, the company has grown to serve nearly 100 leading corporations, 230+ consumer brands, in 16 different industries. David is passionate about entrepreneurship and company building. Prior to Collage Group, he was the founder, vice president and general manager of AOL Latino, AOL’s Hispanic service. At its peak, AOL Latino produced $130MM in revenue from subscriptions and advertising. David was also Executive Director of strategy at AOL’s web properties. Before AOL, he worked in private equity at Allied Capital and strategic consulting…

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