Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's In A Name? - Cross-Culturalism's Impact On Names In America

Any decent advertiser knows the importance of profiling their customer. Over time, this undertaking has moved away from profiling based solely on demographics, to include psychographics that detail a consumer’s attitudes, values and interests. Psychographics have been essential in following the shifts in consumers’ interests because unlike demographics, which is an outsider’s view of a consumer, psychographics inform marketers on how consumers view themselves. As the following research will demonstrate, Americans have grown less and less interested in being considered “mainstream”. This shift in self-image is well reflected in an important, once-in-a-lifetime decision. That decision is what people name their children.

With the exception of the pop stars of the world, it is a decision typically made once. It is a decision made after a sometimes agonizing effort on the part of parents. The fact that lists 1,500 results for baby books gives one a sense of the measure of that effort. Making matters worse, baby name “literature” is a genre riddled with theories on how to name. After all, every name has its own rich description of qualities.

These descriptions can lead to theories on how successful a certain name might make a child. Even the minds behind Freakenomics have made an effort to predict the impact names, explaining how whites tend to seek names popularized by affluent families in the hopes their child will have a higher chance of becoming affluent as well.

Regardless of what such analysis might proclaim, one thing is for certain: names reflect culture. America will have plenty of Johns, Sweden will have Oscars, France will have Hugos, and Spain will have Alejandros. Names are intrinsic to each national culture. Therefore, seeing how names have changed in the US could reflect the rise of cross-culturalism. And after exploring the rich data surrounding this topic it can be concluded that the general market is coming to an end.

Looking for changes in our national culture brings us to a very unlikely place, the Department of Social Security. Their website contains an incredibly rich data set of the given first names of every baby born since1880 and last names collected by the 1990 and 2000 census. Working with this data and population figures, we were able to investigate name choices over time.

This first view revealed a staggering change. From 1950 to 2009, the count of unique first names increased by 25,000. This change is made more interesting by the fact that while the population of the United States doubled in this time, the number of unique first names tripled. And over a ten-year span from 1990 to 2000, surnames doubled. While this data shows that there are thousands of additional unique names, it does not fully contextualize growing uniqueness of names in America. The next measurement accounts for that growth.

Through this second measurement, one can see the changes among the most popular names for newborn boys and girls over that same timeframe. By analyzing the top 25 names and their relevance among all babies born each year, it is clear just how diverse names have become in America today. In 1950, the top 25 male names accounted for over 50% of all males born. Today that is under 20%. Similarly, the top 25 female names have dropped from 40% in 1950 to just 15% today.

Certain names go in and out of fashion throughout time, but when observing the top 25, one can see that names today have undergone a significant dispersion from what previously was a concentration around a small set.

One final way to measure the impact of cross-culturalism on names in America is to look at names among Hispanics. Throughout this research there was an expectation that the growth of the Hispanic population would be a major factor in the dispersion of names. From 1970 alone the Hispanic population has more than tripled, presently accounting for 47 million people.

To track the Hispanic population’s impact on names on American culture we measured a list of popular Hispanic names, both first and last, and observed how they performed over time. The two charts presented here tell the story. From 1990-2000, both surnames and first names have trailed population growth by over 20%.

The second chart reveals that this trend has continued from 2000 into 2009 as well. By making choices outside of their cultural norms, the naming trends of Hispanics serve as yet another example of the rise of cross-culturalism.

As we see in the name data, names are no longer herded among a few popular choices. In the past 60 years, the sheer number of names has increased by 25,000. During that time, the top 25 names have fallen from accounting for 46% of the population to 18%. This is a change that reflects a loss of the general market. The same trend was observed in looking at the growth of Hispanic names. In this instance, popular Hispanic names have not kept up with their rise in population, proving dispersion among their names as well.

For the marketer, these shifts are a sign of the times. Its not that people are gravitating less towards the old cultural norms, it’s the fact that people are not gravitating towards any sort of norm at all. If people are willing enough to strive for uniqueness in their names, then they certainly will in their consumer preferences. Take this research as an indicator of the loss of a true “mass market”. Once you stop looking for the product that will benefit as many as possible, you can start marketing the product that will find the untapped consumer.

How does your brand present itself to customers? Does it blend in with the crowd? Or does stand out from the others?

How does your brand present itself to customers? Does it blend in with the crowd? Does stand out from the others?

Americans today value individuality, doubtless the result of cross-culturalism’s growing influence. The norms of yesterday have largely been abandoned as consumers seek culturally familiar ways to express themselves and claim their own spot in America’s cultural melting pot. In doing so they exhibit interests, preferences and needs that are as unique as the names they have and the names they select for their children.

Marketers of today must ensure that their brand is no longer cast in a way to appeal to the “mass market” – a position as outmoded as it is outdated. Rather, to be successful in today’s American culture, marketers must seek a unique express for their brands that will capture the attention of today’s consumer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

$83.72 ー File Under "Numbers That Hurt"

Yes, indeed, that is what it cost to fill my car with fuel today here in Chicago. Ouch, that hurts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Impact of Cross-Culturalism on American Popular Music (Part I)

Take a look at the 2010 yearend Hot 100 Billboard chart. Over 50% of the Top Ten hits are collaborations featuring other artists. Go back another 10-years on the charts and you will notice where in time that trend really begins to take off.

Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris is one of the latest examples of artists collaborating across cultures and genres in order to gain chart success; a chart trend that began with Santana’s comeback album Supernatural in 2000 when he featured Rob Thomas on “Smooth” and the Product B&G on “Maria Maria.” Why is it that Santana needed to cross-over to gain chart success or that Justin Beiber’s biggest hits are when he features Ludicris? Popular music is a leading indicator of the cross-cultural trend that is prevalent in today’s mainstream.

As popular music has become more fractionalized over the past decade or more, with so many sub-genres, it seems like these collaborations – bringing together the sounds, and the fan base, from different genres – may be a key to chart success. It’s interesting to note that an artist such as Justin Bieber, who’s very popular within his own genre, only sees chart success when he collaborates with artists from other genres.

Brands can learn a thing or two from following the pop music trends. Like popular music, advertising has become more and more fractionalized over time. Does your brand have crossover appeal to bring back together that desperate focus? It may need an injection of pop culture to reel it in, like Santana and Bieber did, to get to the top, or back on top? Is your brand still talking to the Woodstock audience or are they talking to Lollapalooza audience? Chances are your consumers are more in tune with a cross-cultural presentation than a segmented one, as indicated by the pop charts.

The cross-cultural trend has taken off as artists from other genres and backgrounds have been teaming up to attain chart success. Some of the notable collaborative examples over the decade to feature in the Top 10 year end billboard chart included Black Eyed Peas featuring Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland, Gwen Stefani featuring Akon and now Bieber including Ludacris on his hit “Baby”.

In order to understand the impact of cross-culturalism on American popular music, Ryan Herzog and Almond Loh looked at the top 10 hit songs on the Billboard charts for every year from 1950 through 2009. They then classified the artists who performed each of these hits as being either white, African-American, Hispanic, or multicultural – including groups with members from different ethnic backgrounds, or collaborations between artists from different backgrounds. What they found clearly illustrates the significant impact cross-culturalism has had on the music we enjoy as a society.

PLAYING NEXT: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! – Music from the ‘50s to the ‘80s (Part II)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! – Music from the ‘50s to the ‘80s (Part II)

In the early 1950s, popular music was still dominated by the big bands and crooners of the 1940s. And, it was almost entirely white. Even when a non-white artist appeared on the charts – such as Nat King Cole – the song was still typical of those recorded by white artists of the era.

In the mid 1950s, rock music suddenly began to dominate the music charts. Descending from a number of African-American music genres, including blues and jazz, it was only natural that many pioneers of rock music were African-American, such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Yet the charts still reflected almost entirely white artists, even as many of the early hit rock songs were by white artists covering songs that had been originally written and recorded by African-Americans.

A prime example of this was Pat Boone. Boone was one of the most popular artists of the early rock era, and he built his career performing watered-down, “safe” cover versions of songs by African-American artists. Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” is now considered to be a classic of the early rock era but, at the time, the hit was Boone’s more sedate version.

However, by the early 1960s, African-Americans finally began to find their place on the charts. R&B and “girl groups” became popular, and, in 1962, for the first time, African-American artists recorded half of the top ten songs for the year. The 60s also saw the emergence of R&B on the charts, driven by artists on Motown Records, the first major African-American owned record label.

Up to 1957 only the Cuban bandleader Perez Prado made the charts. In 1958 two Hispanic artists had major influences on the Billboard charts. Ritchie Valens recorded his version of “La Bamba” and Danny Flores “The Godfather of Latino Rock” composed and played sax on The Champs’ “Tequila.” In the 1960s, a few more Hispanic artists appeared on the charts, such as Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s and ? & the Mysterians.

By the early 1970s, African-American artists were a fixture on the charts, and multicultural artists began to emerge. The most successful early multicultural group was Tony Orlando and Dawn – a Hispanic lead singer, with two African-American backup singers. They had a number of hits, including the #1 song of 1973, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” as well as a successful TV variety show.

The early 1980s saw a mini-trend of cross-cultural collaboration begin when Paul McCartney teamed up with Stevie Wonder to record “Ebony and Ivory”; two years later McCartney teamed up with Michael Jackson for “Say Say Say.” The mid 1980s saw big-name stars, across all genres, coming together for charity causes, including Band-Aid and USA for Africa, both for African famine relief, and Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Gladys Knight for AIDS awareness. These big name cross-cultural cross-genre artists had huge chart success.

Waves of African-American dominated genres and styles impacted the charts: Disco in the late 1970s and then, divas and hip-hop in the late 1980s and 1990s. Hip-hop and rap began in the African-American community in New York City in the early 1970s. Some credit Kool Herc as the Father of Hip Hop, as he introduced breaking and scratching, break dancing, and rapping at his infamous parties.

The first popular hip-hop recording was in 1979 with The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight.” In the years that followed, two white artists played key roles in bringing hip-hop to a broader audience: Blondie’s “Rapture” in 1981, and Aerosmith’s collaboration with Run DMC on “Walk This Way” in 1986, which literally “broke the wall” between hip-hop and rock music. By the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, hip-hop and rap had gained a broader following among many music fans, and the genres began to dominate the charts.

PLAYING NEXT: Together At Last! – Cross-Culturalism and Music of Today (Part III, Conclusion)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Together At Last! – Cross-Culturalism and Music of Today (Part III, Conclusion)

By the turn of the century, two new cross-cultural trends emerged in American popular music.

The first was the large numbers of Hispanic artists on the Billboard charts, reflecting the growing Hispanic population of the United States as well as the growing impact of Hispanics in the general culture.

The second new trend was collaboration. While there were occasional noteworthy collaborations in the past, it’s in the 2000s that the trend really began to take off. 

Carlos Santana – who had been around since Woodstock – had the biggest hits of his career when he collaborated with artists from other genres and ethnic groups, like Rob Thomas.

In the past ten years, there has been a flurry of collaborations – every year, many of the top songs have been artists “featuring” other artists, often from different genres and cultural backgrounds. Today, artists such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber regularly mix genres and cultures.

This summary graphic illustrates the ethnic makeup of the charts, year by year. It is easy to see just how far the pendulum has swung – popular music in the United States has gone from white artists accounting for 90% of the hit songs in the 1950s, to non-white artists now accounting for well over half of the hit songs in the past decade.

Is your brand stuck in a different era? Is it 50s Pat Boone, covering other cultures through White lenses? Is it stuck in Woodstock like Santana was for so many years? Is it stuck in the times when the brand first launched when what was popular then is now outdated?

Is it trying too hard to be multicultural, coming across unauthentic like “Ebony and Ivory”? Or is it keeping with the fast moving times and appealing to the new general market, the total market, where a mixed culture is the now the new mainstream?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So What Was SXSWi All About, Anyway?

A quick analysis of event titles, descriptions, and speakers reveals which topics dominated this week's SXSWi festival in Austin, Texas. Clearly, the hot topic of the time is "SOCIAL MEDIA". But the interactive space remains cluttered with a number of items -- "MOBILE", "TECHNOLOGY", "GAMES", "DIGITAL", "BUSINESS" -- that indicate the many varied directions being explored by leading thinkers today.

Anyone else notice that "DATA" was edged by even "CHEVY" for mindshare and relevance at the conference this year? Anyone else want to bet that we'll not see that again in 2012, as recognition for data's impact on all things interactive should explode by this time next year?  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Data, data, everywhere.

The world around you is made of data.

Not in a science fiction-y “Matrix”-like way in which everyone and everything is in fact a digitized stream of infinite 1’s and 0’s. At least as far as I know, the world we inhabit is not an illusion controlled by so many alien, deceitful machines.

Indeed the world is real yet the data are surely there still, all around us. They are the attitudes, beliefs, and predispositions we hold. They are the actions, habits, and abilities that comprise our behaviors. They are the messages we hear, the interpretations we assemble, the information we broadcast. All these things can be woven into elegant tapestries of words and numbers portraying who we are in the most interesting of ways.

But this is well known. The collection of quantitative and qualitative data as a practice has been successfully rumbling along since the 1970’s. Seriously. You're online now. Google it if you don’t believe me. Without doubt – given the technological advances we have witnessed just in the previous ten years – every marketer has come to realize that nary anything can escape being measured, controlled, tested, and evaluated.

What is less well understood is the opportunity we have to ask questions. Too often the investigation of data is tentative and brief. Enough to uncover cursory facts or illuminate rudimentary insights perhaps, but little more. Where data scarcity may have restrained marketing analysis in past decades, the only reasonable limitation today is the imagination with which the question is asked.

Recently, my team completed a work that begins with an inspired question. Specifically: What effect has the emergent influence of cross-culturalism in the US had on American society? That’s a big question to be sure. But a question we pose confidently, knowing we have at our hands one of the largest, most complete data stores ever compiled in the 2010 American Census.

Over the next few weeks I'll post some of the investigations completed by members of the team. We hope that like us, you will find the answers interesting.