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The Urban Olive Branch

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For decades, American marketers and public policy professionals have been challenged to create effective brands and messages that resonate with international markets. While social, political and economic differences have created animosity towards the acceptance of American products, one market segment is breaking down these global barriers – the urban subculture.

In a recent paper published by the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, “Cross-Cultural Cool: Consumer Implications of Urban Identification in the United States and Hong Kong”, Professor Marlene Morris Towns highlights the global impact of urban culture by identifying and defining urban consumers’ attitude, style and identification with hip-hop in the U.S. and China. Her findings show that despite age, culture and religion, even the most bitter international rivals see eye to eye on urban identification.

“Young people around the world share a common identity,” said Morris Towns. “By understanding their motives, we have invaluable insight into marketing strategies rather than just using multi-cultural faces on ads.”

A segment often incorrectly categorized by race or ethnicity, Morris Towns finds the urban segment offers a unique and diverse blend of consumers influenced by preferences, attitudes and lifestyles of inner-city American youth and hip-hop culture. As the mass media reaches more audiences, this urban segment has influenced markets by reducing animosity towards U.S. products and increased their willingness to purchase American brands.

Urban Identifiers

After identifying terms that define the urban subculture, experts found three primary factors that identify this segment – style, personality and affiliation with hip-hop. From music celebrities to sports figures, urban leaders serve as information providers and influence the purchasing decisions of this segment comprised of 16 to 34 year-olds. With roots firmly entrenched in hip-hop culture, the urban market is heavily influenced by rap music and pop culture, which influence sales of ‘culturally cool’ items including specific luxury brands.  

Chinese Peers

As globalization spreads the materialistic ideology of the West throughout the world, new markets such as China are becoming increasingly important for U.S. marketers. The study found young consumers of the urban subculture in Hong Kong are similar to their U.S. peers by gathering information and being influenced by the entertainment industry. Though they may disagree with U.S. war tactics and public policies, urban identifiers in China are more willing to purchase U.S. products – despite existing animosity or fundamental differences.

Marketing Advice

Urban identifiers are a lucrative market and their influence extends to others in their household and other parts of society. By understanding the components that influence this segment, advertisers can effectively target these consumers. From product positioning to message development, marketers can generate more favorable views of U.S. products by reaching international consumers who identify with this group. Despite the opportunities, marketers should consider their existing consumers when marketing to younger segments and hiring celebrities. Brands must stay true to their identity while keeping a finger on the urban culture pulse.