Street theater replacing TV

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To grab the attention of the urban youth market, marketers must keep it real and be in their face.

These ethnic, trend-setting young consumers whose lifestyles aren't conducive to formula marketing can see through phoniness, experts agree. And though microsegments exist within the urban youth market--hip-hop and Latino, for example--the key to get them spending is a marketing technique that gets personal.

"We found out early on that kids are not watching TV 24-7. They're on the street or in clubs," says Phil Colon, president-CEO of Urban Latino, publisher of the youth title. "Kids who know all the cool places and people are distributing our magazine. Postering and billboarding are also very effective, especially in New York City."


Creating a youth buzz in the urban market can potentially infect all young consumers.

A new study released by Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich., and Yankelovich Partners on African-American consumer attitudes found that 77% of those with "urban mindsets" keep up with the latest trends in movies, music and TV, compared with 42% of African-Americans in general.

Other figures make urban youths interesting. Hispanics aged 12 to 19 account for 13.6% of all U.S. teens. By 2020, that will grow to 62% or 7 million people, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections.

Teens spent $141 billion in 1998, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, with Hispanic teens spending an average of $320 a month, 4% more than average.

"The phenomenon of Ricky Martin and his Grammy performance told everyone how much Latin influence there is. The records flew off the shelves the next day," Mr. Colon says. "It's a hibernating bear finally awakening."

Launched four years ago, Urban Latino used special events, such as sponsoring a Marc Anthony concert, to catch attention.

"We'd use radio for support because if kids aren't at home, they are out in their cars listening to the radio, on the street listening to their walkmans," Mr. Colon says.


Music--whether it's hip hop or salsa--is the driving force behind this market. In fact, musicians first understood how to capture its potential.

"Entrepreneurs, like EZE Eric Wright, couldn't get attention of major labels, so they sold music out of the trunks of cars, doing things face to face, free concerts, stickers. They made noise until the labels stood up and took notice," says Peter Ferraro, associate publisher of The Source, a music magazine catering to the hip hop generation.

That face-to-face selling inspired organized street teams. Street teams are groups of hired men and women who represent the targeted consumers' profile in terms of age, lifestyle and ethnicity. The street teams are considered part of the vangaurd or trendsetters who influence other consumers to make similar purchasing decisions.


Specialty shop Mosaic Communications formed this year to develop specific street teams for clients ranging from Tommy Hilfiger to Mariah Carey. Mosaic's founders met as the Green Team, a street team selling RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Salem cigarettes.

"We went directly into the clubs and watched to see who was talked to the most, who got in [the club] easy, who talked with the disc jockey," says Maximillion Pick, head of Mosaic's Florida office.

Then Mosaic hired those people to compose its street team. One big mistake is talking down to this market. Mosaic finds success with the opposite approach.

"Educate consumers on the product. Demonstrate how the product works. Let them try it; let them see the benefits of the system," Ms. Pick says.

Already, Mosaic is further specializing. All-women teams now tout products such as Tommy Hilfiger's new makeup line, Color, says Michelle San Juan, head of Mosaic's New York office.

The approach was used successfully in 10 cities from September through early this month.


Color followed Mosaic's work for Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker" album release, raising awareness on the street by wrapping Nissan Pathfinders with Mariah's image in 11 cities.

"It was very Barbie-ish. That was the idea. Get all these cute females for a very bubblegum feeling," Ms. San Juan says.

But it's not that simple. The uninitiated can run into stumbling blocks if they underestimate the sophistication of the market.

"You can't fool these kids who have been marketed to since birth," Mr. Ferraro says. "Certain big brands use an angry rapper and think that is how you get this generation. That's not it. It's more like, be true to your brand and who you are."


Positioned as extreme alternative brand, Pespi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew brand had little relevance to the urban market. The Source and Urban Latino joined in promotions that placed ice cold sodas in young urban hands.

"Mountain Dew credited it for its fast growth in that market," Mr. Ferraro says.

Another mistake marketers should avoid is "you cannot sound like you're trying to target them for their money," Mr. Colon says. "They understand the power of their money. It's like, `OK, you want to reach me? You really have to do your homework and understand my lifestyle.' "

And in creative, "Don't use the lingo if you don't understand it," Ms. Pick warns. "And don't go overboard. You hear graffiti is in, so you do everything in graffiti. Please! We need a certain amount of subtlety here."

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