Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, July 07, 2008

Commercial: Urban blues

An interesting piece in today's Media Guardian, about the demise of Touch magazine.

"What annoyed me was the attitude we were getting from mainstream brands," said former editor Paul McKenzie. "I would go out with my sales team to meet drinks brands, fast food brands and all we were told was, 'We don't have an urban budget', or 'We're not planning an urban campaign'." And this despite having a Nike-sponsored special edition in the can.

What caught my eye was this particular quote, from an unnamed brand strategist:

"The problem is, British celebrity culture has moved away from hip-hop. All the brands are moving to white rock now. It's that Primrose Hill set who are setting the cool mag agenda and they actively dislike hip-hop. If your brand throws a party and invites Pharrell Williams, you can bet nobody else will show up. Urban music hasn't been of much use to us for almost two years now."


Eh? Two things leap out here:

1) It has always been, historically, nigh on impossible to sell publications that focus strongly on black culture to the wider market. An example of that was the perennial compliant that NME did not/does not feature enough black cover stars. The main reason? Sales of said issue would generally drop off 30% or so that week. (On a side note, Caroline Sullivan makes the point that NME's 'approved' range of acts has got narrower over the years.

2) 'British celebrity culture' has moved on from urban music? Really? If that's the case, then these celebrities, and the brands that they are courting (and vice versa), are seriously out of step with their customers. Everyone has cited Jay-Z at Glasto, but for more concrete evidence, here's this week's singles chart:

1. Dizzee Rascal and Calvin Harris - Dance Wiv Me
2. Ne-Yo - Closer
3. Basshunter - All I Ever Wanted
4. Jordin Sparks Ft Chris Brown - No Air
5. Chris Brown - Forever
6. Ironik - Stay With Me
7. Coldplay - Viva La Vida
8. Rihanna - Take A Bow
9. Gabriella Cilmi - Sweet About Me
10. Busta Rhymes Ft Linkin Park - We Made It

So, by a very rough definition, five songs that are obviously urban in origin and intended audience, and one urban/rock collaboration.

This doesn't suggest that 'urban music' is dead. While there might be debates and grumbles that it isn't as creatively exciting as it was two to three years ago, it remains what it has been for the best part of nearly ten years now: the global lingua franca of today's pop music.

And it would be a foolish brand manager that was distancing themselves from that.

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