Judge Them Not by the Color of Their Skin but by the Content of Their iPhones

Does Urban Mind-set Outweigh Ethnicity in Today's Youth?

By Published on .

"I'm trying hard to explore, I'm not sure
What all the racial war is for
It's making me more sore
I walk through a color-blind corridor
Seeking, for peace in the people I'm meeting
Black, white and Puerto Rican men are greeting each other
Just like brothers, there's plenty and many of others
You can discover, kids fathers and mothers
In a melting pot, no one felt they got prejudiced
And I could never assist someone diss this"

Tru Pettigrew Tru Pettigrew
The above lyrics are the opening lines of "Erase Racism" by Kool G Rap and DJ Polo. The remaining lyrics are in the same vein of not focusing on people's racial and ethnic differences. This song was released in 1990, almost 20 years ago. When I was an aspiring MC, Kool G Rap was one of my lyrical influences, and this verse in particular is one of my favorite of all time. Now, I don't know Kool G Rap, but I imagine that if he's in a field or industry today that allows him to study the trends, attitudes and behaviors of youth and young adult culture, particularly as it relates to urban and multicultural, then he's pretty proud right now. I say that because the very lyrics we see above are now pretty much the sentiment of an entire generation of multicultural youth.

When I speak of today's youth, I'm primarily speaking of those born after 1979 -- our eighties babies and after. This is a consumer group that truly "walks through color-blind corridors." When we engage members of this consumer segment in dialogue, whether it's discovery sessions, focus groups, ethnographies, etc., their true sense of unity really stands out. I walk away from sessions and/or conversations feeling like any of the young people we just spoke with could have authored Kool G's lyrics.

And the communication is not deliberate or overt; they don't just come out and say it. It's a genuine and intuitive part of their responses, reactions and behaviors. It's who they are. This is evidenced in the role that so many young people played in this country electing its first African-American president. They were not caught up on his race; they were drawn to a candidate who they could relate to, one who spoke their language and focused on the issues that were important to them. This holds true for favorite athletes, celebrities, artists and so on.

This is where the "urban" part of urban and multicultural marketing comes into play. Many of today's youth share an urban mind-set. This mind-set is fueled by discovery, expression, diversity and connectivity. It transcends race, geography and economic status. They are more focused on their commonalities than their differences. The commonality is what connects them, and that's primarily based on shared lifestyle interests. My good friend and colleague Bobby Jones said to me recently, "This generation of urban hustlers has learned not to judge others by the color of their skin but rather by the content of their iPhones."

Now, this isn't to say that race and ethnicity don't matter when it comes to marketing, because they do. We should always acknowledge the diverse cultures and ethnicities and their contributions to our society, but in a way that is natural and organic and not forced and contrived. And because African American culture and Hispanic culture both play such significant roles in what drives urban lifestyle, it's important to have ongoing insight into those audiences. (And there are also cases where it makes sense to market by culture or ethnicity in certain categories such as hair care, food, etc.)

It is because of this dynamic that brands should pay close attention in determining when you need to do multicultural marketing vs. urban-lifestyle marketing. And I encourage more brands to adopt an urban-lifestyle-marketing approach when appropriate. So for brands who truly want to establish stronger emotional connections and more-profitable relationships with the 29-and-under multicultural segment, sometimes it makes more sense to target more by lifestyle interests than strictly ethnicity. Give them a cultural wink, but appeal to their common lifestyle interests.

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