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When the manufacturers of Converse sneakers wanted to investigate the consumer appeal of entertainment mogul and basketball player Master P (Percy Miller), they hired Jeffrey Meade, 23, and Patrick Walsh, 22, founders of Washington, D.C.-based Mjini Urban Youth Experts, to research what resonated with young, urban consumers. Converse was negotiating with Master P to endorse several lines of sneakers. Linking up with one of the country’s hottest rappers had its appeal, but Converse wanted to make sure he would attract urban youth.
Meade and Walsh were paid $1,300 per day plus expenses to find out. Their company subcontracted with Arnold Communications, an advertising firm that help conduct the research. They talked to dozens of young men at malls, basketball courts and community centers in Los Angeles and New York, and recorded these conversations to find out what would spark their interest in Converse. Who better to discover what clicked with the young, black male market than two young, black men?
“We only have a couple of years on the targeted consumer, so they were eager to talk to us,” says Meade. “It turned out that kids responded well to Master P.” Last February, Converse began marketing “The Smooth,” a sneaker endorsed by Master P, and, last summer, it added “The MP” and “Chuck Authentic.” A series of print ads for the sneaker lines ran in The Source, Slam and Vibe magazines, publications that are widely read by hip-hop and rap fans.
The Smooth brand has sold out and the other two brands have proven to be successful, particularly in the South. Marketing to the trend-setting urban youth consumer has become big business because of their buying power ($300 billion) and influence over the mainstream consumer market. McDonald’s plays hip-hop music, and even Colonel Sanders, the staid, white Southern gentleman, has become a slam-dunking rapper who handles his walking cane more like a Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother than a senior citizen. Whether it’s shoes or orange juice, this demographic has its finger on the pulse of the mainstream marketplace, which translates into an expanded market base, increased brand awareness and higher sales volume for the companies that produce these products and services.
“What works in urban cities, works in suburbia, but not vice versa,” says Roy L. Brannon, president and CEO of the Brannon-Cottrell Group in Dallas, a full-service advertising agency specializing in campaigns targeting urban ethnic markets. “The general market will accept what the urban consumer wears. If you can capture them, you can capture the mainstream market. When rap music first came on the scene, it was in inner-city underground clubs, but when it reached the suburbs, it became commercial.” Today, more than 70% of hip-hop albums are sold to whites.
Because the market is young, it represents an audience companies can follow and profit from as it ages and builds wealth. Majority companies have targeted millions of dollars at urban youth marketing campaigns because they recognize this market’s viability and influence. Even if your business doesn’t have the advertising budget of