Nielsen Dives into the Digital Lives of Black Consumers

Sep 26, 2018


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Article ImageThousands of words have been written—including in EContent—about the power of the U.S. Latino market. Marketers are enthusiastically trying to capture the attention of this growing group, but Nielsen is taking a look at a different demographic that we all know holds a lot of cultural sway, but is often overlooked: Black Americans. From Consumers to Creators: The Digital Lives of Black Consumers is the third in Nielsen’s 2018 Diverse Intelligence Series, which has focused on the digital lives of multicultural consumers. The report uncovered that “Black consumers no longer think of their virtual actions as distinct from 'in real life' behavior, and have leveraged digital platforms, particularly Black Twitter, to affect real-world change.” What does this melding of real-world and online selves look like in practice?

Young and Mobile

According to the report, “90% of African American consumers live in a household with a smartphone, 6% higher than the total population.” Why? According to Cheryl Grace, SVP, U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement for Nielsen, “Black consumers are largely younger, digital natives and voracious consumers of content. Smartphones are 24/7 access to video, music, social media, news, information and their physical and online networks. Younger consumers in particular want to be connected at all times; most feel their social and online presence is just as important as how they present themselves in person. Smartphones are primarily how they manage that.”

We all know how important mobile devices are to young consumers, and that's no different for digitally-savvy Black Americans. So the message for brands trying to reach this group is the same as it is for other marketers. Meet your consumers where they are.

“Black consumers are online, so brands have to go where the consumers are. Digital/mobile advertising has to be part of the marketing mix,” says Grace. “These consumers are not an 'easy sell' however. It’s important to understand the platform and content preferences of this demographic. African Americans are not monolithic, so having the right insights to guide strategic, authentic advertising and content is really important.”

Podcasts are Popular

The research also found that between 2014 and 2017, the African American podcast audience grew by 70% (2.12 million to 3.6 million). With those kinds of growth numbers, podcast creators would do well to keep the desires of this market in mind—and frankly, they already are. From The Nod to 2 Dope Queens, great podcasts by and for Black people abound on networks big and small.

“As with all media and content, African Americans want to see themselves reflected in what they watch and listen to,” says Grace. “Black listeners contribute to the listenership of mainstream content, but the democratization of digital platforms has given birth to a bold new academy of Black content creators. So in addition to mainstream favorites, Black consumers are searching out and finding uniquely Black voices and perspectives on everything from politics, LGBT+ interests, spiritual and religious issues--to entertainment, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and lifestyle content.”

Buying Power

African Americans also over-index against non-Hispanic White consumers for dollars per buyer spent online in a variety of categories, according to the Nielsen report. “African Americans make up 14% of the U.S. population but have outsized influence over spending on essential items such as personal soap and bath needs ($573 million), feminine hygiene products ($54 million), and men’s toiletries ($61 million),” says Grace.

But that's not the extent of their influence. Grace adds, “Nielsen research also shows Black consumers spent $810 million on bottled water (15% of overall spending) and $587 million on refrigerated drinks (17% of overall spending). We even looked at luxury, non-essential products such as women’s fragrances where Black consumers spent $151 million of a $679 million industry total.”

It's no secret that American culture is heavily influenced by—or, in some instances, stolen from—African-Americans but now we have the numbers to prove their influence as a group.

The Bottom Line

Whenever we delve into the data around a specific demographic, it's easy to think we'll learn something new or revolutionary about that group. But often the data reinforces what we know to be true for most people. “Black consumers want to see themselves authentically represented in content and advertising,” says Grace. “They are voracious, but discerning consumers. They have more choice than ever, and they’re making those choices based on new and interesting things. It’s important for brands to engage them and engage them with the right insights if they want Black consumers’ attention and their business.”


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