The term ‘Afropolitan’ has moved just beyond defining a group of people, it defines the world they inhabit.
Africa doesn’t stand still. In constant flux, it’s a continent that straddles the line between the traditions of the continent and the Western world.
Arising from this precarious balance is a new generation of Africans, intriguingly called Afropolitans. Coined in 2005 by author and photographer Taiye Selasie, an Afripolitan is a young African, or person of African descent with a very global outlook.
That’s its simple definition but understanding this generation is a little more complex.
The term ‘Afropolitan’ has moved just beyond defining a group of people, it defines the world they inhabit. It is about the fusing of South African, African and Western cultures and has evolved to also refer to the fusion of the different African cultures – their fashion, music and social scenes.
I’ve made a research career of defining the many different African cultures and then helping marketers to decode them. With a background in advertising, I quickly realised that marketers and brand managers didn’t understand the black market. They would box them into one category, failing to realise that they are all different, with their own unique ideas and lifestyles. It was this insight that prompted me to start Foshizi, a mass market research and strategy agency, in 2004.
The mass market is an ever-changing environment, and new trends and behaviours arise all the time. In South Africa, the Afropolitan is a relatively new, but increasingly influential group.
Here we examine some of the behaviours that Afropolitans can be identified with, and raise a few red flags.
The rise and rise of social media
There can be no doubt that this target market are big users of social media. The phenomenon of “Black Twitter”, where hashtags created and used by black people define the social media space they occupy, is just one example of this. But be careful not to assume that if you’re on social media, you’re on this market’s radar. It’s not enough to know that social media is a touchpoint, brands need to understand how it is used and how people interact with it. As an example, brands often choose a brand ambassador based on how many followers they have, but they don’t know why those people are following that person.
Maybe they are old men who like the fact that she posts naked pictures of herself. Furthermore, social media doesn’t tell you everything, economic realities mean that there are gaps in information. What about people who can’t afford a smart phone? The biggest mistake a brand can make it to lump everyone together in one behavior and one media type.
A call for freedom
Freedom never goes out of fashion, and the Afropolitan youth have taken to it with particular enthusiasm. The hashtag movements like #Feesmustfall, #Nene, #Concourt and #RacismMustFall have served as a reminder that this target market is not content to accept the status quo. They believe in their right to live life how they believe they should, and they are willing to fight for it. Through internet and social media, they are seeing a world that they can influence and this desire reflects in the choices they make. The demand for freedom of choice and the belief in their right to have it is constantly growing and brands that ignore this do so at their own peril.
What’s in it for me?
The Afropolitan loves a freebie. Free wifi, free chat, they are always looking for the next great deal. While they are discerning, they are also fickle and don’t shy away from trying new experiences and new offers. Don’t imagine, however, that they can’t be loyal. Brands need to start relationships with them now, when they are young. If you are there for them when they need you most, they will be loyal. And if you are honest, respect them and take their best interests to heart, you will find that they are very generous consumers when it comes to praise, particularly on social media.
Please don’t let me be misunderstood
Most of all, don’t assume anything about this market. Key to reaching them is understanding them as individuals and giving them what they need. They are connected to the world, technologically savvy and wise to the ways of marketers. You can’t lie to them because they will know and they will punish you if your behaviour as a brand goes against what they believe.