A huge jump in spending power — and a growing awareness of issues around inclusion, equity and racial justice — have put African-American consumers in the spotlight, according to a new Nielsen report that says “the power of the Black community has never been more evident to the wider American population.”
A 2019 University of Georgia study found that African-American buying power has nearly doubled in the last decade — from $971 billion in 2010 to $1.8 trillion today. “This [48%] increase in buying power surpasses that of both whites (40% increase) and the total U.S. population (43%),” the report says. “For marketers, it’s a compelling reason to try to connect with this group at a younger age. The earlier you engage them as a consumer, the longer you can keep them.”
And while Blacks are avid consumers of all forms of media, Nielsen says radio, streaming audio and podcasts have more traction among Blacks than the general population. An August 2020 survey found that African-Americans listen to the radio an average of 13:23 hours per week.
Blacks listen to 5% more radio and 10% more streaming audio than the general population, and they spend more time on their smartphones — 35 hours per week — than any other ethnic group.
“Overall, smartphone ownership for African-Americans has grown from 44% in 2011 to 98% in 2020 — faster than the total population,” Nielsen says. “Over one hour of that time is streaming audio.”
Podcasts are especially popular and “have become a central stage for Black voices,” the report says. “African Americans spend more time per week streaming audio, including podcast listening, than the total U.S. population. In a typical week, almost half (49%) of African-American podcast listeners spend about one to four hours listening to podcasts.”
Top genres are comedy (45%), music (38%), news (35%), education and business (33% each), health & fitness (29%), arts (28%), society & culture (27%), sports (25%), TV & film (23%) and religion & spirituality (21%).
Music podcasts are 39% more popular than average with Black listeners, but African-Americans also listen more to almost every other category than the general population. The exceptions are comedy (same as the general population), business (18% less) and society & culture (16% less). Podcast listenership has risen 19% since the onset of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Nielsen says radio remains “a trusted channel for news and information for African-Americans, reaching 98% of them every month,” and is even more important during the pandemic. Thirty-nine percent of African-Americans have increased listening time during the COVID crisis; 47% spend about the same amount of time listening, and only 14% report listening less.
The COVID crisis has also influenced where African-Americans listen. Nielsen reports a 33% drop in car radio use, and a rise in listening at home (32%), via mobile devices (21%), computers (25%) and smart speakers (11%).
While Nielsen says advertisers are spending more to reach the Black community, there’s plenty of room for growth. The Top 20 advertisers’ spend “has increased from $3.34 billion in 2011 to $3.86 billion in 2019 — almost a 16% increase,” the report says. “But this is still less than 2% of the total U.S. advertising market of over $200 billion.
“Now, more than ever, is the time for advertisers to invest in the Black consumer segment and forge more meaningful connections,” the report continues. “Brands can use media to reach Black consumers where they are — either as content sponsors, or advertising on programs to show their commitment to racial justice.”
Nielsen adds that outreach to Black consumers is important over the long term because the African-American population — currently 48.2 million — is not only growing fast. It’s also getting younger, better educated and more affluent.
“From 2020 to 2060, Blacks will contribute to more than 20% of the total U.S. population growth,” the report says. “What’s more significant is that African-Americans are much younger with a median age of 32 — six years younger than the national average and 11 years younger than non-Hispanic whites... The size and youth of African-Americans speak to their growth in economic and political influence, as well as consumer power.”