I've often said that there are really only a handful of companies that truly get multicultural marketing, and State Farm is one of them. It is not surprising that these few companies also happen to be great marketers. State Farm is not a client but I've been one of their customers for nearly 15 years, and their response to the LPGA's requirement that their tour members possess "effective communication in English" deserves a toast with the finest Tequila. But then again, we shouldn't be surprised with State Farm when they said they were "flabbergasted" with the LPGA's announcement. State Farm gets it.
It's clear that the LPGA came out with their pendejada because they've seen an influx of superstar Korean players to their tour, but they probably would have reacted the same way had they been overwhelmed with a bunch of Lorena Ochoas. For the record, Ochoa does speak with an accent but she's never had any problem communicating with the English-language media (one of the reasons the LPGA cited for their new rule).
Ad Age has received a lot of online comments from readers and one of them correctly pointed out that "green" (money, and golf for that matter) has no language barriers. Speaking of Koreans, their language has never prevented them from gaining economic clout in the U.S., and their presence in L.A. is a great example. About 10 years ago I told the syndicated columnist Gregory Rodriguez that we should keep an eye on the Koreans if we wanted to truly understand southern California. We already knew of their great economic impact because of their corner grocery stores in downtown L.A. but little attention had been given to their roles as L.A. real estate moguls and landlords.
I learned a lot about Korean entrepreneurialism and business success when I worked on Johnnie Walker. While based in New York, I made many a journey to L.A. to visit Korean supermarkets, restaurants and night clubs because Korean consumers were and are important to Johnnie Walker's business--especially the top of the line: It was estimated that over 70% of Johnnie Walker Blue Label's sales in L.A. could be attributed to Korean accounts. Do you think we made an issue of language?
The LPGA has already retrenched a bit due to the backlash but I don't think they've gone far enough--far enough meaning rescinding their new rule.
The irony of the LPGA and State Farm's strong and commendable response is that the LPGA was concerned that potential sponsors would be deterred if tour players could not communicate adequately in English. Say what? The LPGA's idiotic requirement is the kind of behavior typical of an individual or a group feeling under seige. What does the LPGA fear? Do they really feel threatened by non-English speakers?
I hope the LPGA has learned a lesson or two about economics and marketing: Don't try to re-invent the wheel on marketing and sponsorships when you can look to pioneers like State Farm.