New Urban Tribes: It’s time to stop defining people by the gadgets they own

“Why am I still being defined by my fridge?” Dion Chang, a designer turned corporate analyst, asks the audience at the Flux Trends Review — a one-day trend conference. He’s talking about LSMs, but it’s an unexpectedly apt description given the Icelandic conditions inside the auditorium (I half expected Bjork to appear on the beautifully decorated stage).

LSMs (Living Standards Measures) have been used to categorise people since the 1980s, and they’ve become outdated. As it turns out, the gadgets and appliances you own do not determine your outlook or your propensity to buy a particular brand.

In the words of the Flux Trends blurb, “Old stereotypes have evaporated and have been replaced by a new cast of colourful characters that approach life, love and brands from a very different perspective to the generations before them.” Hence the new e-report, New Urban Tribes of South Africa.

With an anthropologist’s eye, Chang’s trends analysis company has defined 12 new South African urban ‘tribes’ to help people connect with their customers in meaningful ways. These are the people who are considered most interesting to marketers. (The list does not include everyone, so you won’t necessarily find yourself here.)

1. Diamond Chips
These are the pampered trophy kids of successful black parents (once classified under that terribly 2006 term “Black diamonds”). Under intense pressure to succeed, they are “brand sluts” who attend private schools and go on to study at university. All Diamond Chips are not the same: the Darkies are more connected to African culture than the Coconuts, and the so-called Hipsters in the Hood live in the suburbs but lay claim to an urban identity. They love celebrity culture: current It girls include Bonang Matheba and Poppy Ntshongwana.

2. Faith Based Youth
87% of South Africans profess to be Christian, so despite appearances we’re a religious and conservative country. Faith Based Youth are passionate about their religion, but reject both the hierarchies of the established churches and the bling of Rhema Church and Hillsong. They practice what Chang calls Neo Monasticism, living amongst the communities with which they work. Unlike most of the other tribes, they’re not motivated by labels or status.

3. Technohippies
“Turn on, tune in, drop out.” These are the tech entrepreneurs and slashers (because you’re a yoga instructor/programmer/DJ/blogger) who enjoy freedom of time and location. They believe in “the new rich” as defined by Tim Ferris, where experiences and adventure matter more than houses and bond repayments. They’re very interested in awareness of issues, but unlike the Faith Based Youth, they’re slacktivists who’ll pass the Kony2012 video along and feel warm and fuzzy about it without necessarily getting their hands dirty.

4. Empowerment Kugels
“Jewish kugels are a dying breed,” says Chang. In their place are the new Empowerment Kugels, ladies who lunch while fusing Afro chic with European style. Their lifestyles are funded by wealthy husbands and this requires adherence to an unwritten set of rules. She turns a blind eye to his infidelities; he can do what he likes so long as he doesn’t embarrass her socially.

5. The Domestic PA
Dora, the maid who features in Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Nowell Fine monologues, has changed. She’s now a personal assistant who runs the household, orders groceries online and fetches the kids from school in the Range Rover. The job is only a stepping stone to another career, and they supplement their income with a business on the side.

Interestingly, many of them are Zimbabwean, and these more educated women are displacing the traditional South African domestic worker. They spend a disproportionate amount of their income on looking good, and because they make purchases on behalf of their employers, they influence a lot of spending. What should marketers do if they want to reach Domestic PAs? “Airtime is gold,” says Chang.

6. The Afrikaans Artiste
At the Loeries (South Africa’s top advertising awards) last year, it struck me how many of the people walking up on stage to pick up metal birds had Afrikaans names. There seems to be something about growing up within the confines of Calvinism that forcibly generates creativity, because the Afrikaans Artiste dominates the creative industries. “They are the creative geniuses of South Africa,” Chang says of the older Creative Collective, referring to women such as Lucilla Booyzen, Jackie Burger and Elsabe Zietsman. The younger Liberal Millennials are trying to redefine their heritage without referring to apartheid. Like the creative collective, you’ll find plenty of them in advertising and design.

7. Indo Asians
Indo Asians — Indians and Chinese immigrants — are a global phenomenon; Chang himself falls into this group. With their strong work ethic and emphasis on education, they represent a disproportionate number of university graduates and earn more than the average wherever they are found. In many ways, they’re trapped between a traditional lifestyle and a contemporary identity. They’re appealing to marketers of tech brands because they love gadgets.

8. Black Pinks
Black and pink have always been a good combination in fashion, I’ve thought, and it seems that they make for a highly attractive consumer too. Flux is seeing the emergence of the Dinks (Double Income No Kids) of the future: a black gay tribe with lots of disposable income. There are two types of Black Pinks.

The first subset is the skinny jean creatives in advertising, marketing and design. Loud and proud, you’ll see them swanning around shopping malls with their BFFs, female celebrities. “You see them at the opening of an envelope,” says Chang. The second type of Black Pink is what Flux calls the “Pink Chino Corporate”, high-powered corporate types who would have lived a double life in the past.

9. Single Parent Double Life
When I first heard of this tribe, I immediately thought of the “party babies” described in this City Press report last year. These are the single mothers who leave their babies with the grandparents while they enjoy a life filled with “fabulosity”. Some work to send money back to the family; others regard the baby as an inconvenience. Chang explains that they hunt in packs in their search for sugar daddies. Their lifestyles are expensive: when an Indian weave costs R8,000, they need someone to fund it.

10. Bieber Brats
These are the real born frees: those cosmopolitan 9 to 12 year olds who’ve grown up with technology in a culture of privilege where the playing field between black and white is even. “Knowledge and technology are their weapons,” Chang says. Parents are no longer the source of knowledge and authority; now it’s Google. Phones are critically important: South African youths access the internet via their phones at 5 times the global average. Bieber Brats will not promote a brand or product unless it enhances their social status.

11. The Lost Generation
And now we come to those South Africans whose presence hovered in most of the talks on the day, from City Press editor Ferial Haffajee to ad man Khaya Dlanga: that generation of jobless youth who have effectively been cheated of a future by a dysfunctional education system. The stats Chang cites are sobering: 86% of jobless youth have never held a job; 9.5% of teenage deaths are suicides. 62% of black children are growing up without fathers. “We are in the business now, in the new South Africa, of creating dead capital in our children,” Mamphele Ramphele said recently, and the Lost Generation was what she had in mind.

12. Rainbow Revolutionaries
Talking about the Lost Generation was really depressing, so it was a relief to end on a positive note. Liberal, open-minded and worldly, Rainbow Revolutionaries are the South Africans who, for Chang, are the future. These are the interracial families who respect other people’s beliefs and culture — a “transhumanist philosophy” — while at the same time redefining what it means to be a family. Think of them as the South African version of Modern Family.

What’s interesting is that almost all of these tribes have benefited from the changes South Africa has gone through over the past 20 years — with one notable exception. The Lost Generation overshadows them all, and it is the Lost Generation that will effectively define our collective future. In the mean time, you can find out more about our complex society going through the terrifying, exhilarating ructions of change by downloading the full e-report.

New Urban Tribes of South Africa is available as an eBook through Amazon, Exclusive Books and Kalahari



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