Myths about SA's black middle class

13 March 2006

Marketers who believe they have South Africa's booming black middle class down pat may be in for a few surprises, according to a new study by UCT's Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing and Research Surveys.

In its Black Diamond marketing survey the institute put paid to a couple of pet theories about the group. For example, the overwhelming majority of the 750 middle-class black South Africans interviewed for the research believe that the benefits of BEE have not yet trickled down to ordinary South Africans, and presently only favours a privileged few.

Also, the group is not as uniform as many marketers and business practitioners like to think, says the study. And there's been no affirmative-action fuelled job hopping, as many feared.

Another misconception that has been shattered is the one that argues that the conspicuous spenders are the most affluent.

"Marketers tend to target people who have just started their careers because they like to flash the little they have," says Research Surveys' director and project leader, Refiloe Mataboge. "This segment, which we have called the 'Start Me Ups', have hectic social lives and show off their earnings, but in fact have very little disposable income."

Another surprising discovery is that the growth in this market cannot be attributed to the young, high-flyers alone. The findings points to a new unsuspected segment called the "Established", who are also a key driver in this market. All handy titbits for marketers, says Professor John Simpson, director of the Unilever Institute.

Aside from gaining valuable insights into this sector of SA society, the study confirms that the new black middle class is a dynamic market with huge potential, says Simpson.

"This is where things are really happening, and because this market is still in transition, it will continue to mushroom for some time to come."

Researchers from the UCT Unilever Institute and Research Surveys presented the in-depth findings of the Black Diamond study at seminars around the country early in March.

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