The Evolution of ViacomCBS' Multicultural Marketing Capabilities
Debbie King is Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing Communications and Culture at Velocity, ViacomCBS’s in-house, full-service marketing and branded content studio.
In today’s climate, brands understand that when it comes to multicultural marketing, it’s not a nice to have anymore—it’s a necessity. This is especially true considering this past year where businesses loudly voiced their support against racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. When it comes to marketing across multicultural audiences such as Black, LatinX, and Asian American Pacific Islanders, it’s imperative to target these segments authentically, and that’s what is playing out across the industry today.
In order to authentically connect brands to BIPOC audiences, for the first time, we’ve pulled together all of our resources across the house to make a ViacomCBS offering for our partners—a company-wide multicultural capability. The initiative came to life in Velocity, ViacomCBS’s branded content studio, with the intention of focusing our efforts solely on the branded content we were creating. As this evolved, we realized that there was a bigger opportunity to leverage this capability across the house. We first connected with our colleagues at BET and leveraged their long history of working on multicultural partnerships to begin building a fuller program. We pulled together a task force across our ad sales teams—including BET, digital, convergent, broadcast, and CBS—to get everyone aligned on the opportunities we could offer when we strategize how we can continue to authentically deliver for our clients.
Everything we do within our multicultural capability and our offerings rolls up into four buckets: Strategic alignment with our programming, the ability to authentically reach diverse audiences, cultural insights that both inform our creative development and help drive business decisions, and our expertise in creating purposeful creative that allows brands to seamlessly and authentically connect with their target audiences.
Breaking Down Silos
We made the decision when we started this work back in February 2020 that we would incorporate multicultural marketing across the full team. We wanted everyone to attain knowledge about diverse communities; to be armed with insights to be used in order to make better creative.
That’s why it took over a year to put this together. We wanted to ensure that in bringing this to the market, our efforts were authentic. Authenticity is the key to our approach in building out this multicultural capability and our creative, as is ensuring that our partners know that it’s not only a current initiative, but will be an ongoing priority. This is the future of marketing.
Our Creative Strategy and Cultural Intelligence team created the In America series across Black, LatinX, and Asian American audiences, to inform what drives, motivates, and concerns these demographics. Our full team went through these sessions to get an understanding of the experiences of not only our target audiences, but also of each other. In the past year, we’ve taken this series of presentations to more than 60 clients, including brand-direct, agencies, and larger holding companies. Since many of our clients consider this new territory, our thought leadership is one way for us to guide them through our partnership.
Throughout the campaign process, we ensure that our team members reflect the target audience. We also have a roster of over 250 partners that are vetted to make sure that they, too, have diverse perspectives. The result has been truly top notch creative, and programs that have positively impacted and resonated across diverse communities.
For example, last year for the VMAs, Toyota came to us with the ask of celebrating the power of music in bringing people together. We created the VMA’s first-ever all-Spanish language branded content embedded within the show, where eight culturally diverse New York City musicians performed an original recording of the global mega-hit “Mi Gente,” a song whose lyrical content and commercial success prove music’s ability to transcend borders and race. That was a very successful program, from our standpoint and from the client's.
A Trusted Leader in DE&I
At ViacomCBS, our legacy is rooted in social impact. We’ve taken action to advocate for diverse communities and amplify diverse voices within our organization and outside of it by educating our employees, viewers, and partners through impactful initiatives like Content for Change. Launched by BET in June 2020, Content for Change recently expanded as a cross-ViacomCBS initiative that harnesses the power of our content to counter racism, bias, stereotypes and hate through programming.
As a company, we’ve used the power of our brands to inspire change and action against systemic racism and social injustice through initiatives like Nick Stands, where we enlighten kids and their families about the issues of oppression and systemic racism, utilizing outlets such as Nick News to educate and empower kids to speak up on issues related to equality. We’ve also created content that champions diverse stories, ensuring that diversity is represented not only on camera, but by those behind it. For example, there’s CBS’ Writing Mentor Program and MTV Entertainment Group’s First Time Director’s Program geared towards helping diverse creatives launch their careers in the industry.
Within Velocity, we’re part of the pilot program for Content for Change Academy, an initiative focused on giving diverse candidates an opportunity to work within a creative or production department, through a three-month apprenticeship. This is in partnership with Reel Works, a leading youth organization and long-standing partner of ViacomCBS, and while the apprenticeship lasts for a period of time, the end goal is to pave the way for securing full time roles within ViacomCBS.
Our clients recognize our expertise in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) space, and as such, lean on us to help them navigate engaging with—and connecting to—diverse audiences in a way that’s authentic and impactful, not performative. We continue to fine-tune our approach in the multicultural marketing space, to better suit our partner’s needs.
Ultimately, we’re trying to create broader awareness not only for our clients, but also internally as an organization. We want to overcome barriers and put a stake in the ground to become an anti-racist culture. We recognize it’s a long-term effort; it’ll take a while for us to get there. But it’s a goal that we have to keep working towards.
I believe if we’re doing this right, we have the ability to drive stronger, more meaningful connections between our clients and these important audiences.