Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Marketing to Youth In the Obama Age-Is Urban or Multicultural Still Relevant?

Recently, I was a panelist at the Y Pulse Youth Marketing Conference in San Francisco. The discussion was exploring the notion of whether or not "urban" or multicultural is still relevant in this internet age. It was a dynamic conversation, and people seemed to be very interested in what was being said. I have to give shouts out to Rolando Brown of MVMT and Neelanjana Banerjee of New America Media. As CultureLab we have been touting the fact that when it comes to marketing to young people, ethnicity is really a secondary or tertiary part of youth identity. Here is our POV:

Yes, Multicultural and inclusion are now more relevant than ever, however ethnic targeting from a marketing perspective is not that relevant:

What is important is a genuinely inclusive outlook and deep understanding of youth identity. Young people want to see themselves represented AUTHENTICALLY. Stereotypical and clich├ęd images will not cut it in this day and age. For marketers what is important is to create welcoming spaces for people and their identities.

Identity from my vantage point has to do with who you connect to, how you view yourself, your background, your geography,your social class, experiences, interests and racial background.

Understanding identity, the role of class, and connection is what is really important. For instance, a kid may be Hispanic, living in LA and his or her interest lies in skateboarding. The community of skateboarders, the fashion associated with it, and the indigenous language used by skateboarders have the biggest impact on that person’s identity, more so than the fact that they are Hispanic. Ethnicity is just one minor part of the mix.

Social class is also something for marketers to consider and be sensitive to. For instance we are seeing some class differences in the online sphere. My Space is the preferred online social network of the underclass. Whereas Facebook which first took hold on college campuses is now the preferred social network of the more affluent and educated masses.

Also social class plays into cultural tastes. Take a close look at kids who totally dig the hipster hop of Kidz In the Hall and those who are die hard devotees of T.I. you will find some pretty clear distinctions.

Marketers win by showing insights that connect to young people on a universal level. This generation just does not like to be singled out on the basis of race. However the problem with the advertising world is that due to the lack of diversity within many general market agencies, they have a tendency to default to stereotypes or images of benign benevolence by just showing a rainbow of cultures in their ads.

In my mind unifiers are the winners like the advertising agency, Wieden & Kennedy, the Nike agency. They continue to do a great job of unifying through universal insights. Heineken, Drink Responsibly is by far one of the most clever spots out there. They showed insight in a cool and hip way that humor is one of the things that this generation reacts most favorably to. The spot also treated hip hop in a non stereotypical way.

For anyone who is trying to target what we call the "inclusive" general market, here are some things to consider:

• Yes, inclusion of multicultural people is now more relevant than ever, however ethnic targeting is not very relevant in connecting to young people

• DO NOT default to Hip Hop to reach young people, the reality is that we are heading into a POST HIP HOP AGE

• Be genuinely inclusive: understand youth identity and create contextual spaces for people to connect to your brands

• Anti-intellectualism, particularly among Black and Latino kids, is over; smartness is cool

• Tribalism and the long tail are real. Marketers must know who rules these tribes in order to gain greater influence

• Build Relationships and Social Currency

• Frugality and Thrift are IN, consumerism is OUT-woe to luxury brands and non-necessities

• The youth generation ideal is “One Nation Under A Groove” - unifiers who rally their audience around their brands will win!

• Knowledge of cultural nuance and social class is key, as it dictates tone, style, and language

• Be consistent: this generation despises phonies


Pepper Miller said...

You have provided a wonderful argument to help marketers, particularly Black agencies, understand the changing Black consumer market.

Many of us in Black consumer marketing continue to want to hold on to the old school practices of marketing to Black folks. Its not working entirely.

While I don't want Black culture and Blackness to become irrelevant, we have to wake up and begin developing strategies that will help us better connect with this segment. Thank you for your wonderful article.

Anonymous said...

Excellent insight. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...


Your insight is accurate but ahead of its time. I don't believe black culture and race is the marketing "be all-end all" it use to be a decade or so ago...so its status is no longer major. However, I would also suggest that alhtough its continued status is more than minor it is not the factor it use to be...and its growing less and less important every day. This growing trend can't be stopped because at the end of the day, human beings long to relate to someone else with similar ideas...and factors dtermining those relationships over time will continue to be specifically less focused on race and more about the connection associated with those ideas.