Urban Culture: The Underrated Powerhouse

In a digital age where anyone or anything can be marketed as a brand, it’s difficult enough to stand out amongst the content generated by competitors.

Add to that urban culture –– content creators that organically get content to trend, artists that get paid millions to endorse brands, event promoters that fill up stadiums, young creative’s who dictate new trends, influencers with thousands of followers on their online profiles, and bloggers who get thousands of hits on content created in their bedrooms, and suddenly you’re competing with something that can snub brands with millions of Rands to spend.

But is there truly a need for brands and urban culture to compete?

I believe the digital space will only become conducive when brands and urban culture start to authentically collaborate with one another, but for that to happen brands need to start seeing urban culture as organic parts of their brands.

Brands need to open their boardrooms to these underrated powerhouses, reserve sizeable budgets to help build urban culture, but more importantly build their brands in more credible and sustainable ways. Long-term investments in urban culture will not only generate amazing content but ROI for brands that are bold enough to partner with these dictators of trends. When the communications bridge and ways of working together is overcome, more constructive conversations can be had with the people that own the audience that most brands are dying to speak to.

A few years ago, Cassper Nyovest invited me to a breakfast meeting to ask for help with bringing a vision to life: He wanted to “fill up the dome.” He laid out his plan and where I could help, and I took his big vision back with me and presented it to my team. But with just two months to our financial year-end (at the back of a very successful year for the brand), depleted budgets and finalised brand plans for the upcoming year meant Cassper’s vision would remain just that –– a vision –– without a solid corporate proposal, and he ended up without a cent from our brand. Fast-forward a few months later; I received a message from Cassper asking if I’d seen the re-tweets on his post about Filling Up the Dome.

Cassper went on to fill up the dome, did a great job at almost filling up Orlando Stadium, and is set to fill up FNB stadium in 2017, despite not having substantial brand backing.

Had a brand been bold enough to jump on what may have seemed to be a crazy idea three years ago, they would’ve been riding on the back of the success of South Africa’s biggest hip-hop artist –– a great PR story of uplifting local talent with success and brand revenue to match. Yet urban culture still finds itself at the mercy of big corporates, begging for budgets at the last minute because of communication barriers.

Add to that, the tension being created by brands, desperate to remain cool and relevant, pairing themselves with artists, influencers, and promoters who aren’t aligned to their business proposition but appear to be speaking to the audience they’re trying to tap into. Authenticity is being sold for instant likes and unsustainable partnerships.

Here are my predictions for urban culture:

  • It will continue to grow
  • It will dominate the digital space, making it harder for brands to stand out
  • It will continue to earn the loyalty of every single consumer in all market segments
  • It will shut brand out of key consumer occasions because of their inability to invest fairly


The only way to progress and overcome this gap is for brands and urban culture to start being more understanding of and empathic towards each others’ differences. Brands expect urban culture to speak the corporate language. Urban culture expects brand to trust the visions they can’t put on paper.
Remember, brands need to take ownership of the opportunities urban culture presents to them; it’s not their job to sell your brand. It’s up to brands to leverage partnerships to ensure they deliver key brand messaging, validate the association through mechanics that resonate with the audience, and reinforce the role the brand plays in the consumers’ life.

Make every interaction with the urban culture memorable and you’ll bring your brand to life incredible ways.


Mimi Thabethe is a Strategic Brand Consultant and owner of Gina Global.