'Cultural participants': Keeper of the Flame

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Marketers cannot talk to urban youth and Generation Y-a coveted target due to its purchasing power and position as barometer of all things stylish-the same way they talk to their parents.

Recognizing that, Jameel Spencer, president of Blue Flame Marketing & Advertising, has to out-work, out-network and out-party his omnipresent boss: hip-hop megastar, actor and clothing-line impresario Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Blue Flame's CEO.

"We pride ourselves on being cultural participants," Mr. Spencer said. New York-based Blue Flame, less than a year old, conducts research for high-profile marketers including Arista Records, Nike, Bacardi USA and Sony Pictures. "When we come up with a marketing message, we're on point because we're coming up with it from [the consumer's] vantage point."

Blue Flame is just one part of Mr. Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment Group, an ever-growing empire that includes his Sean John clothing line, also a Blue Flame client. Specializing in strategic planning, event marketing, national field marketing and product placement, Blue Flame helps companies build brands that are targeted to trend-setting consumers.

That means Mr. Spencer is out and about attending parties, going to clubs and looking for the latest fad far more than he is at his office in Times Square. Although nontraditional, P. Diddy and Blue Flame recognize that those marketing tactics are necessary to follow an ever-moving target.

"It gets to the customer in the customer's environment," said Samantha Skey, VP-convergent marketing at New York-based 360 Youth, Alloy's Generation Y-focused media and marketing division. "Don't throw your ad out there without a whole lot of context. Create a context that surrounds the product," she said.

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"If you look at what's going in [P. Diddy's] operation, it's like looking into the future of advertising and marketing in America," said Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, adding that marketers no longer have the luxury of communicating in a three-channel universe. "It is a really good example of the avant-garde of the advanced entertainment-hype complex," Mr. Thompson said. "They've managed to take what started out as a single product-which was music-and turn it into a lifestyle."

The lifestyle of the young, urban consumer is fast-paced and technology-driven. That demographic knows and accepts its status as a marketing target-as long as the marketing messages remain cool. "They've never known a world where there haven't been all sorts of sophisticated marketing ploys aimed at them," Mr. Thompson said. But "they're willing to play that game" if they benefit from it. "[Marketers] have to be exceptionally careful not to appear passe and square, and that means constantly reinventing an image."

"The challenge for brands now is they have a sense of urgency to reach that [demographic]," Mr. Spencer said. "But you have to reach them in a way that they're spoken to."

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