The race for cut-through

Black and Asian groups have a huge influence on modern youth culture, yet this is rarely reflected in communications planning. Marketers need to understand them to break through to young people

Recently Sony launched the first viewer-led, interactive drama series, called Dubplate Drama, aimed at the elusive 16- to 24-year-old age group for its PlayStation Portable (MW November 10). Hip-hop-focused Dubplate features some of the most influential names from the UK’s urban music scene, including MC Shystie, and will no doubt hope to appeal to the UK’s ethnic youth scene – a most influential demographic.

Ethnic Britons have a distinct influence on youth trends and media. Some 13 per cent of UK 16- to 24-year-olds have ethnic-minority backgrounds; in London, it is 41 per cent. With even higher proportions of black, Asian, and mixed-race under-16s, this trend is set to grow significantly. Yet the influence of ethnicity is rarely considered in communications planning.

Starcom research among black, Asian, mixed-race and white youths between 16 and 24 and uncovered a number of trends that should influence how we communicate with the UK’s modern youth.

Several factors have contributed to the evolution of a generation of “natural born consumers”. The “bling” aesthetic associated with black American hip-hop and reality TV shows making instant celebrities of contestants through magazines such as Heat have combined to make this generation obsessed with success – 60 per cent think money is more important than job satisfaction.

They have grown up with marketing and are astute consumers – only eight per cent are “turned off” by advertising. They see it as a transaction – 70 per cent would consider watching an ad in return for a free pay-per-view movie, 75 per cent for a free music download, and 88 per cent for e-vouchers.

Urban music and the volume and accessibility of black imagery has had a defining influence on young people and on mainstream media, from the dominance of hip-hop and R&B in chart radio to MTV Base. Conversely, this has led young ethnic audiences to turn to more niche media such as Channel U, the urban music TV channel, pirate radio, and ethnic lifestyle and music magazines. Ten per cent of young blacks chose an ethnic title as their favourite magazine, and 15 per cent of young Asians’ favourite radio station was an Asian one.

This generation also appears to be disengaged with media – 56 per cent of their television viewing is distracted. They perceive their lives to be hectic and apply “speed bumps” like soft drugs to take the pace down.

The research illustrates that youth media consumption is best understood by looking at the context in which they consume it. Occasions have different patterns for different ethnic groups but, overall, they fall into three main categories: family, peer and community.

Family occasions are surprisingly prevalent – this is the “mothered generation”, with 64 per cent still living at home. Early-evening TV, soaps and light entertainment are perceived to be an easy way of spending time with parents, according to 48 per cent. For Asian respondents, a lot of in-home TV viewing is on channels that are safe to watch with parents – ethnic channels such as Zee TV.

Peer relations are the classic arena of “youth” media – magazines, the internet, radio, music and youth TV. Peer-to-peer media that they can manipulate, feel close to or communicate through are increasingly central and influence their expectations of media. Some 72 per cent argue that they should be able to control what TV shows they watch and when.

Community affairs, including current affairs, are important. News is most followed on TV and websites, but local press is significant. Surprisingly, 74 per cent read a local newspaper.

Ethnic Britons have a distinct and disproportionate influence on youth trends and media – from mainstream expressions of this influence such as Kiss and MTV Base, to fast growing niche media such as Channel U. This needs to be reflected more in research and planning.

With disengagement a real issue, marketers need to understand how to break through by offering something to young people – whether it is stand-out creative, valued content or the opportunity to interact. There is also a need to understand the social and ethnic context of youth media and establish what occasions are most relevant by brand and message.

Bobby Syed, founder of the Ethical Multicultural Media Academy

Black, Asian and mixed-race youths have been so marginalised that their attitude to media organisations – creating a distance between the “old media” reality and their reality – has been influenced by peer and community behaviour. I can understand why 60 per cent feel that “money is more important than job satisfaction” owing to widespread racism within institutions – the jobs they are likely to inherit will warrant escapism via consumerism.

But these youths have taken a reality check. They have gained confidence by playing computer games where they find the freedom to shape the games and explore their ability in a virtual world. Hence, they rarely complain when ethnicity is, as often, ignored in corporate media communications plans.

Where black imagery has become the norm, with a social and cultural dimension, it has touched urban white youngsters who relate to the consumer drive towards brand loyalty among this marginalised group.

The fact that 74 per cent of this group read local newspapers is not surprising: fear of isolation in a changing world has forced ethnic youths to maintain community links and cultural norms among their peers. It is surprising, however, that Asians have maintained a social/cultural link with parents on a daily basis to maintain social cohesion beyond mainstream media. The influence of channels such as Zee TV and a growing religious sub-culture among some Asian groups illustrate the hunger for a culturally balanced approach to media communications and entertainment.

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