Aug 18, 2011 • By

A nose for cultural nuances

Since childhood, Rudy Rodriguez has been fascinated by other cultures. A second generation Mexican-American, he leveraged his personal experience and interests in other cultures by becoming a marketer with a nose for multicultural nuances.

He’s also one of those guys full of fascinating facts about human behavior. For example, he can tell you why Latinas are the most active users of social media and why African-Americans prefer to get their news via radio.

As director of multicultural marketing for General Mills, Rudy now researches consumer buying behavior, as well as trends in cultural diversity. “I’m a sponge for any news about consumer behavior or what our competitors are doing,” he says. “I especially love to stay on top of cultural trends, and then turn those trends into opportunities for our brands.”

Over the past eight years, Rudy has led General Mills’ strategies in how to reach out to Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

He’s a marketer, but he’s also a relationship builder who’s devoted to exploring ways our company can sell to – as well as serve – communities of color.

Among Rudy’s standout projects is Que Rica Vida (which translates to “What a Rich Life!” in English), a campaign targeting Latinas that started six years ago as a print magazine.

It’s now blossomed into a proprietary program that includes an award-winning website, a TV partnership with Univision Communications, radio spots and a mobile cocina, a sampling vehicle with a kitchen that visits hundreds of festivals, retail and community events each year.

Recipes have always been the main attraction of Que Rica Vida, but Latinas also engage for the content, which offers Hispanic women ways to embrace the U.S. culture while maintaining their traditions from their country of origin. “We were one of the first companies to develop a multi-touch point strategy to reach Hispanics, and still no competitor comes close to our efforts,” Rudy says.

Rudy also oversees Feeding Dreams, an initiative that came about after extensive research in Birmingham, Ala. and Chicago that revealed African-American consumers’ distinct concerns. “The African-American consumer doesn’t typically see themselves reflected in the media,” says Rudy. “So acknowledging their presence in a strong and respectful way is an important first step in engaging them.”

Another key step is to be present in their community in a consistent way and to celebrate and reward local and community heroes. “We found that recognizing everyday heroes – local heroes rather than celebrities – is a very important way to build trust and awareness,” says Rudy.

In fact, the centerpiece of the Feeding Dreams initiative is the Community Champions awards, a program that awards $30,000 annually to people chosen by an online vote.

It’s no surprise that Rudy’s marketing team’s expertise is sought out by all brands in the General Mills family. “Many of our efforts have a proven return on investment,” he says. He is asked to speak at dozens of national events each year, including conferences sponsored by the Association of National Advertisers, American Advertising Federation, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business and Procter and Gamble’s marketing organization.

“Multicultural consumers are expected to contribute significantly to the U.S. market growth for General Mills in the future,” says Rudy, who believes connecting with the multicultural consumer will be the key to winning in the marketplace.

“Sometimes reaching out to consumers can be straightforward, but more often than not, there are nuances to understanding the culture.”

Editor’s note: For more about our approach to multicultural marketing, you can watch a video interview that PR Week did with Rudy.