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African-Americans Seemingly Underrepresented in Smartphone Ads

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Blacks are fastest mobile internet adopters, though not depicted in advertising

By Corey A. Washington –

The smartphone landscape has quickly evolved over the past five years, outpacing expert expectations and moving faster than many consumers and technology aficionados can keep up with. And while blacks have historically been used to slight by societal changes, recent studies show African-Americans are outpacing other ethnic groups in mobile internet access and social media. This appears to be a positive indication of where we could be headed in the information age.

But as some critics question how this emerging trend could be separating black culture farther apart in our efforts to bridge the digital divide, I wonder where are the black faces in the smartphone advertising campaigns.

The evidence of African-American buying power has been undeniable for more than a decade, but newer studies on African-American use of technological advancements make a clear case for why African-Americans should be a leading group in the smartphone marketing world.

In 2009, African-Americans spent $9.4 billion on cell phones, up 30 percent from the previous year, according to a report by Target Market News. Heavy hitters in the smartphone arena, such as the iPhone and Android handsets pose the best opportunity for growth with African-American consumers, who mostly own Blackberry devices. According to research by The Nielsen Company, 31 percent of African-American consumers owned Blackberry devices, 27% owned Android phones, and 15% owned iPhones at the end of 2010.

But if you turn on your television, visit a major cell phone carrier online or pay close attention to billboard advertisements, African-American representation is minimal. African-Americans living in urban neighborhoods may notice modest relative advertising, but most anecdotal evidence points to cell phone and smart phone advertising hanging on the lower end of the total advertising spectrum.

Last year, a Pew Research Center study showed that about six in every ten adults go online wirelessly. This includes Wi-Fi and broadband access on a laptop as well as internet, email and instant messenger use via cell phone. Nearly two-thirds of African-Americans (64 percent) were wireless internet users. English-speaking Hispanics were right behind African-Americans, with 63 percent. Throw in 87% of African-Americans and Hispanics likelihood of owning a cell phone compared with whites and the picture becomes clear.

Technological innovation is non-stop, especially with smartphone and mobile device platforms, with tablets coming into the mainstream and 3G becoming the slower data standard for smartphones. African-Americans need to remain on par with these changes and their buying power or willingness to purchase smartphones should not be taken for granted.

With smartphones accounting for half of new cell phones coming to the United States in 2012, according to a study by In-Stat, one has to wonder when will the advertisers come to African-Americans.

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

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