Even in Obama Era, Ethnic Identity Is a Big Deal for Some Youth

Don't Be Too Hasty in Assigning Ethnicity a Secondary Role

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Pepper Miller Pepper Miller
I have the proverbial egg on my face. In a somewhat knee-jerk reaction, I applauded Culture Lab for a post called "Marketing to Youth in the Obama Age -- Is Urban or Multicultural Still Relevant?"

I was excited to see the youth perspective that I have been hearing in focus groups about race for some time. And among Black youth, many often say they want to be recognized for their accomplishments first and "blackness" second.

However, John Parikhal, a global leader in media strategy, marketing, research and consumer trends, and Ken Smikle, publisher of Target Market News, checked me -- and rightly so. Both Parikhal and Smikle disagree with Kevin Walker's perceptions on several levels, which also tend to mirror those of many marketers. A few of those contrasting ideas are discussed here.

In his article, Mr. Walker, author and CEO of culturelabcreative.com, concluded: "When it comes to marketing to young people, ethnicity is really a secondary or tertiary part of youth identity." Additionally, Walker added, "Multicultural and inclusion are now more relevant than ever, however ethnic targeting from a marketing perspective is not that relevant"

Parikhal, part of the strategic team for the Radio One/Yankelovich Black America Today Segmentation Study, suggested that Walker, like many marketers, confuses targeting and relevance. Both Smikle and Parikhal challenged the following point Walker made about ethnic identity.

Understanding identity, the role of class, and connection is what is really important. For instance, a kid may be Hispanic, living in L.A. 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.
Parikhal asks: "How does Walker conclude that it's minor? Based on what evidence?" Parikhal, referenced the Black America Study, which reveals that Black youth often lead parallel lives and provides a clear rationale for targeted efforts: "Black Onliners," for example, are primarily Black men who are 97% online, educated, moderate income earners, have a majority of Black friends and respond to targeted Black advertising. However, although "Digital Dividers" have a similar demographic profile to Black Onliners, they are different. They are higher income earners, yet have fewer Black friends. "Ethnic identity is a big deal for some Blacks and minor for others," says Parikhal.

Smikle agrees and adds this about Hispanics: "He [Walker] makes the point about the two identities that all people of color have: Hispanic/Skateboarder, i.e., Background/Interests. What he doesn't get is that being Hispanic comes first. And it's the only part of the identity that doesn't change -- ever."

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