A culture of one

27 May 2004|Christoper Ireland

I always love talking to Carolina about acculuration and its many facets. Her recent blog captures some of the reasons why. The range, reasons and implications of acculuration is a very active debate at Cheskin, not just for US Hispanics, but for people of all cultures.

Although I rarely use myself as an example, I think I’m a reasonably good case in point here. My maternal grandmother is an Italian immigrant. My maternal grandfather was a Swiss immigrant. My paternal grandmother was of mostly Dutch and English ancestry, while my paternal grandfather could best be described as Celtic. My parents (bless them) did not choose sides; rather, they selectively embraced the parts of each culture they valued. As a result, I have a Northern Italian food palette, an Irish sense of socializing, a Swiss appreciation of logic, and a Celtic reverence of nature. But am I acculurated? And if so, to which culture?

I can’t say that I share American values because I’m not sure what that means anymore. I can’t say I’m aligned with any of my inherited cultures because I’ve only experienced and adopted certain aspects of them. If a culture reflects shared values and behaviors, then the only way to describe my culture is “Northern Californian.”

While this type of discussion always interests me from a philosophical point of view, it has numerous implications in the marketplace. If I’m typical and an increasing number of people view themselves not as Americans or Brits or Africans, but as members of much smaller, more cohesive communities (either virtual or real), the ability of designers, developers and marketers to relate to people’s cultural values is going to get exponentially difficult. Can a Pepsi or a Bank of America afford to target their products and communications in a meaningful way to people with Northern Californian values? If they don’t, will they be trumped by smaller, more regionally focused producers who do?

We’ve long known that the mass market is dead, but this is a further evolution that says it’s being reborn into relatively tiny, but intensely distinct markets that may soon start redefining the prospects of national and global brands.

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