written by Kevin Walker and Anietie Antia-Obong
We are officially living in the Age of Crossover as a pop aesthetic has overtaken and defined African-American art and commerce. As a marketer, this has been one of the most interesting developments I have witnessed recently. Given that I am such a music fan, I began noticing this trend earlier in ’07. Music, of course, is one of the key ingredients in the overall pop culture environment.
Just take a close listen to the techno-house beat and Daft Punk sample used in Kanye West’s masterpiece Stronger. Is Stronger hip hop? Yes, he is rapping in the song, but the hook and the music all have a very pop feel. Kanye and Timbaland kind of started this. But now Snoop Dogg has come out with a very good pop song called Sensual Seduction. It is in every since of the word a pop song.
In film, the top earning actor is Will Smith. Will Smith is assuredly the icon of the Post Modern Black aesthetic. He is connected to his heritage yet the film vehicles that he chooses are those that typically have the most appeal to the masses. Even Spike Lee’s last film Inside Man had a multiracial cast and in no way touched upon any ideals of Black Nationalism.
So what is driving this? I think it is part of the idea of the post modern and pop black aesthetic that is driven by the desire to sell art to as many people as the market will allow.
Having lived through the 70’s Blaxploitation, Pro-Black, Soul Train era and then the Public Enemy/Spike Lee era of Black Consciousness and Black pride, I have personally witnessed this transformation of African- American art and business. Those eras were defined by the need for black expression mainly geared toward other blacks. Now in this era of Crossover, black artists are striving to create art for the masses, largely driven by the growing corporate domination of the entertainment industry which requires artists to fit the mainstream aesthetic.
This sensibility is impacting many other areas of pop culture and consumerism and it definitely has implications for us as multicultural marketers.
We believe that going forward targeted African-American advertising will be more subtle in leveraging cultural cues and will begin reflecting the “racially blended” styles that are developing more and more in general market communications. Like Kanye West’s Stronger, African- American advertising will feel more like general market advertising and will be more universal in its appeal. The challenge to traditional African- American agencies is how do you stay relevant without allowing general market agencies to steal their clients?
As an Agency, CultureLab’s main goal is to connect through true consumer insight. We develop our communications not from the perspective of ethnicity, but from an understanding of the interests of various groups and cultures within the African-American community.