Kaya FM’s content is aimed at sophisticated, upper-LSM black Jo’burgers – but just who is this demographic? The ‘Afropolitans’ have always been a consumer market – marketers just weren’t interested in them and a lack of research rendered them invisible.
This is what Kaya FM managing director Greg Maloka says. His station, the fastest growing in Gauteng, which was awarded Best Commercial Station award at the recent MTN Radio Awards, is positioned as interpreters between advertisers and this mercurial target market, a strategy Maloka says accounts for the station’s growth over the last few years.
The term ‘Afropolitan’ was first used to describe Africans of the diaspora – young, cosmopolitan, breaking the stereotypes of what it meant to be African. Ghanaian/Nigerian writer Taiye Selasi first articulated the concept in an essay called ‘Bye Bye Babar’ in which she writes: “You’ll know us (Afropolitans) by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes.”
For Kaya FM the term is used to refer to the station’s typical listener, a “mature, sophisticated, socially-conscious individual rooted in his or her heritage and a progressive thought leader”. While Kaya has refined the idea a bit, the basic tenet remains: if advertisers want to reach this market, they must know how to think beyond the stereotypes and speak to the Afropolitan.
The strategy seems to be working; late last year, the station outgrew its premises in Newtown and moved into stylish offices in Parktown North. Maloka must feel that Kaya’s prospects are as wide and bright as the sweeping view from his new corner office, which looks out over the forested northern suburbs.
So, just who is the Afropolitan? “You’re looking at one,” says Maloka. He says he knows his market because he is his market, as are many staff hires at Kaya FM. “We’re talking about ourselves. Our recruitment process is strict, especially in key interface areas (like the Kaya FM presenters).” What emerges from talking to Maloka is that the Afropolitans are a complex, heterogeneous market with ever-changing brand affiliations and ever-evolving needs. They are middle class, urban, sophisticated and socially engaged, and “see Africa from an African perspective”, says Maloka. They are businesspeople and entrepreneurs who retain a sense of their traditional cultures.
Are they ‘Black Diamonds’? Maloka says not. “The (Unilever Institute) Black Diamond study had its uses, but that is not the full picture. That’s just a snapshot.” The Afropolitans are more about family than bling, more level-headed in their purchases and, while they like quality, they are more inclined to buy based on their circumstances than on the logic of conspicuous consumption.
Maloka says the Afropolitans have always been around as middle-class consumers, even during apartheid – though they may not have always been visible to marketers because the existing tools weren’t designed to measure them. They travelled for pleasure, sent their kids to good schools and had brand affiliations. He prefers to describe them on a timeline of shared social and cultural references: the typical Afropolitan is about 40 years old and remembers the upheaval in Soweto in the 1970s, dusty township streets and skorokoro taxis – but may well have come out of the small middle-class pockets in areas like Diepkloof Extension and Pimville. Brands like Coca-Cola and Omo were targeting them, but there was little research done into their needs and preferences and they were especially ignored by the financial services.
This historical neglect needs to be redressed, says Maloka, adding that Kaya FM is in a position to help brands speak properly to their listeners. “Kaya FM has seen this gap (in communication) and we’re going to be the bridge,” says Maloka. Many brands don’t know what this sector wants, he says. As financial services were targeted at whites, even those black people who had money to save and houses didn’t have that kind of financial suss to insure. Even today, almost 20 years after apartheid, Afropolitans might not be as inclined to take out insurance and insurance companies don’t quite understand how to engage with them. Kaya’s own business show focuses on entrepreneurs, advising those who have just got into business. “The future lies with the middle class, but the middle class aren’t talking to each other… we have to fan the flames of entrepreneurship,” says Maloka.
Advertisers must think beyond the stereotypes of what black people want, he says. He often tells clients about two hypothetical men in their respective Range Rovers, one immaculately dressed and stylish, the other casual and scruffy, with kids’ fingerprints on the windows and a cricket bat in the back. “Chances are, a lot of advertisers will just see two black men in Range Rovers! But this is not a homogenous group,” says Maloka.
The radio station has shown how marketers can repackage their brand to make sense to this market: Last year, Kaya FM offered listeners the chance to buy tickets for a four-day cruise on the MSC Opera, complete with celebrity entertainers.
“You might know the jokes about black people and water,” says Maloka. “You don’t think of black people on a cruise, yet here were 2 000 black people, many of whom were cruising for the first time.”
Another stereotype is that of a single mother, a term that conjures up images of a desperate, poor woman struggling to make ends meet. But the Afropolitan market contains many single mothers – who are also successful career women.
The Afropolitan market is upwardly mobile and still in a kind of flux, says Maloka. Consumers in established markets have more or less predictable life stages, making it relatively easy to define them and advertise to them. The Afropolitan is still forging his or her identity and negotiating the changes that economic empowerment has brought – the changing role of women in society, for instance. They are still shifting their brand loyalties.
“It’s also all about discovering different brands as people develop and define themselves. I like to cook; a lot of my male friends of the same age like to cook. It’s not strange to see an Afropolitan man in Le Creuset or Carrol Boyes… People don’t go for the popular brands anymore: they want things that define them,” says Maloka. The Afropolitan is more likely to go for understated, well-made brands – Gant rather than Gucci.
Kaya has conducted research into the Afropolitan and created an environment that appeals to and understands this market. Maloka says Kaya FM has grown by double digits annually over the last four years. His message is clear: Advertisers, get to know the Afropolitan. It is worth it.
This story was first published in a radio supplement as part of the April 2013 issue of The Media magazine.