Monday, January 7, 2008

Crossover Dreams and the Post-Modern Black Aesthetic

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.


The Elephant said...

Kanye and Snoop have had the ears of pop/white America for a long time, I don't think that the driving force behind "Stronger" or "Sensual Seduction" was use pop sounds to reach white ears to sell more records. The driving force was to make hot songs to sell more records.

The Snoop song and video is rooted more in the sound and aesthetic of Prince and Morris Day than anything explicitly white.

And the Daft Punk song sampled by Kanye takes its roots from "Cola Bottle Baby" by Edwin Birdsong, an artist well-known to funk/hip-hop insiders but less so elsewhere. (though his use
of Daft is what helps to drive it in the popsphere).

I'd say that the Kanye + ColdPlay song is indeed in the camp of cross(over) marketing....but while we know 'Ye is obsessed with album sales, gotta also consider that the dude might like Coldplay too.

With black kids skateboarding and rocking pegleg Levis in 08, I'm curious to see where hip-pop goes and where it takes the advertising world.

W. Kelvin W said...

The artists are focused on crossover for ONE reason..MONEY! They are not trying to speak to a new generation or use "their own voice". It's simply about MONEY. Many of the so-called artists are nothing more than marketing creations who make music or movies that will make money. To hell with being authentic. It's about the paper!

It is interesting to note that the AFrican American sayings and mores become mainstream in time. Sayings like "keeping it real", "homie", "dissing", "get my party on", are now suddenly MAINSTREAM and acceptable to say. Mainstream culture takes the things that are said in the African american world and make them "acceptable" and of course, we go along with it. While PARTS of our world become mainstream, it is interesting to note that somehow african americans are still NOT a part of the economic or political mainstream. As evidenced in the advertising business, our firms were typically called on for the "BLack" commercial; you know the one with the Gospel tune, R&B hook or rap song. THe 60 second minstrel show aimed at ALL black people. Increasingly now, we are a less relevant audience if we look at where the capital is directed by marketers. Money seems to be focused on the mainstream audience or the Latino audience. While both segments are important, it would be a mistake to marginalize, OVERLOOK and forget about the African American consumer. Clearly, there must be firms that provide TRUE CONSUMER INSIGHTS about the non-monolithic composition of the black consumer base. But, there seems to less and less $$ focused on it and our ethnic agencies are beginning to be "sham" partnerships with some lone brother or sister in a big firm listed as a "minority vendor". What is that? That is wack (Another African american expression!). African American ad agencies must be the keepers of all information that describes the multi facted lives of our people. We CANNOT give that away OR, be co-opted into "selling it" for a one time pile of cash. Also, the African American ad agency must be willing to FIGHT for the right to market to ALL consumers....particularly since mainstream America gets many of their trends, styles and expressions from Afrian Americans.

Wake up my people. The days of having P&G or Coke market to African Americans may be over. I guess the ad world has decided that WE are part of the mainstream. If so, when we will really PARTICIPATE in the mainstream????

Celebrate MLK weekend. We have a long way to go. I hope we will get there soon.

Before I ramble too much...I will close..I'm out.

W. Kelvin

Anonymous said...

Consider this notion too. Main stream America defines itself with bits and pieces of the African American culture. Usage of speech, clothing, dating preferences(attraction to black males for perceived qualities (other than sexual prowess). So would it be wrong to surmise that main stream America has crossed over to black music, etc? And this has become pop? The hard core rap crossover from mainstream America began in the late 90's. And hard core rap was considered "black, urban" music.

This potentially could be good for Black American's. No longer do we have to worry about numbers suffering at the box office because producers have chosen not to target the black community alone. We have the freedom to do either or in this age. Also, many films for Black audiences, crossed over as well, perhaps it did not garner the same attention, but nonetheless it captured the attention of other races as well.

Brands realize that advertising still needs to appeal to the Black market to acheive sales. In no way are the Brands ready or prepared to give up the millions of dollars obtained from Black consumers.

As an Advertising student, I realize the numbers do not lie. And big business operate accordingly.