Representation Matters, But It’s Not Enough | V by Viacom


Representation Matters, But It’s Not Enough

New research from Viacom reveals multicultural millennials demand more from media.

May 24, 2017

Viacom’s Marketing and Partner Insights (MPI) team conducted an in-depth study on multicultural millennials to better understand this growing demographic, currently 36.7M strong in the US, where the population will become majority-minority by 2044. Viacom’s MPI team took a 360° approach to this research: using social listening, quantitative surveys, personal vlogs, expert interviews, and lifestyle safaris to collect insights from the 2,603 millennials participating.

Amongst the findings of MPI’s research was a unique paradox: multicultural millennials have a cultural radar that’s on high alert, uniquely attuned to minority representation in media, however diversity alone isn’t enough to drive interest in programming.

Only 18% of multicultural millennials ‘tune into a TV show because it has characters that share a similar ethnic background’. As a 27-year old African-American woman (which places me firmly within the multicultural millennial demo) and consumer of copious amounts of film and television, I can relate to this indifference. I, along with 82% of the respondents, don’t find that diversity in casting is enough to pique my interest – an apathy that actually demonstrates just how far we’ve come in matters of representation.

My mom, who grew up in the 60s, recalls a time when, ‘If there was a black person on TV, it was a big deal! Everyone would huddle together in the living room to watch.’ Because this visibility of blackness was so rare, it couldn’t be missed. It didn’t particularly matter if this black person was cast in a stereotypical role – J.J. from Good Times (1974-78) comes to mind, the eldest son from what IMDB describes as a ‘poor Afro-American family trying to make the best of things in the Chicago housing projects’. J.J.’s character, used for comic relief, was portrayed as unintelligent, dishonest and reinforced several negative stereotypes of blackness; social scientist John Parker described him as a ‘cartoony, streetwise, jive-talker’. To this my mom explains, ‘We weren’t discriminating about the role, we were just happy to see people who looked like us.’

Today there is a wealth of content that features people of color, giving me the privilege of seeing a black face on the television and mindlessly changing the channel. The MPI research explains, ‘for millennials, diversity is the default – but don’t cast a black person and call it a day’. Casting is never enough. Content creators need to tap into the unique cultural insights of the community they’re portraying to tell a story that feels relevant and honest.

60% of the multicultural millennials surveyed believe ‘advertising and media have the power to change the conversation about race in America,’ and I agree with this sentiment. I see all of the work that Chescaleigh does on MTV’s Decoded and rejoice in her uniquely comic yet well-researched approach to schooling people on controversial topics like ‘5 Excuses for Slavery That Need To Stop’, ‘Do You Speak for Your Entire Race?’ and ‘How Voter ID Laws Explain Structural Racism’.

Multicultural millennials aren’t settling for tokenism, we crave and reward stories that capture our unique perspectives authentically. And while I don’t want to see negative stereotypes of black women perpetuated, the portrayals don’t need to confine themselves to positive portraits of unrealistic perfection either. We just want to be to be seen with the same multi-dimensionality our white counterparts are afforded. Viola Davis summarized this desire best when she said, “It’s time for people to see us — people of color — for what we really are: complicated. 

Why It Matters:


MCMs Stats Recap

  • $3.4 trillion in buying power for multicultural consumers

The tipping point:

  • 2044 U.S. population projected to become majority-minority
  • 2018 majority-minority for under 18
  • 2014 majority-minority for children under age 5

In today’s world diversity is the new normal, and that’s what people expect to be reflected in the media. But diverse representation alone is no longer enough:

  • Only 18% of MCMs tune into a TV show because it has characters that share a similar ethnic background
  • MCMs are +54% more likely to believe the media only reinforces the stereotypes of their ethnicity (54% MCM vs. 35% WM)

Multicultural millennials expect more from advertising…

  • Only 28% of MCMs believe advertisers do a good job of representing diversity
  • 1/4 of MCMs say that commercials today resonate with me and my friends

…and believe in what the industry can accomplish.

  • 1 in 2 MCMs pay attention to brands that stand up for diversity
  • 6 in 10 MCMs believe that advertising + media have the power to change the conversation about race in America