Why Miami music mogul DJ Khaled is millennials’ 'messiah'

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In an age of real uncertainty, we’ve witnessed the arrival of a new kind of deity for many young people. A guiding light that has captured imaginations, garnering a million-strong follower count in the process.

His powerful proclamations and sage advice are being spread around the world, and amplified by his many acolytes. A largely anonymous figure before he started populating his Snapchat story, his global reach is now instant and his influence messianic. Like many, I’d initially dismissed him and his unique form of rhetoric.

That was, until the day his recently published scripture was in my hands. Illuminated in gold lettering, The Keys has been an insight into this man’s devotion and passions. So too, understanding how this 40-something, unlikely icon has been so effective in communicating to his beloved ‘young world’.

A child of Palestinian migrants, DJ Khaled is a Miami-bred music industry mogul, rap mega-producer and now social-media motivational speaker. It’s forgivable to see him as a joke on first impression. Fixating on the negative forces in the world, to which he broadly refers as ‘they’, he berates them with lines like ‘they don’t want you to win’, ‘they will try to close the door on you; just open it’, and my personal favourite, ‘they don’t want you to eat breakfast’. 

But as much as the crowd might laugh, his skill in connecting with his audience and the staggering viewing figures his content attracts is a marketer’s dream. A brief trawl through his Snaps will show you that Khaled’s messages aren't especially erudite. But for an audience of young people struggling with the unrelenting self-imposed pressure to get ahead, his inspirational messages are appealing.

In 2013, following Obama’s second inauguration, POTUS 44 arrived on stage to the tune of DJ Khaled’s ‘All I Do Is Win’. But the confident tone of the song belies the story told by Khaled's Snapchat account; he will often relate to followers with his own experiences of failure, struggles with anxiety and even body confidence. He offers a motivational route to ‘win, win, win no matter what!’- a unique guide to superhuman stature that celebrates a human honesty. In this instance, ambition and the desire for self-improvement transcend his style of articulating ideas. He uplifts millions with a tone that a TED talker may struggle to.

What’s perhaps more interesting is his relationship with ghostwriter of The Keys, Mary H.K. Choi. She goes further to carry the raw power of Khaled’s philosophy, packaging it in a way that amplifies his message without compromising its core. Choi reminds me of the important role researchers and marketers must endeavour to play in respectfully understanding the people they talk to, whatever section of society they are engaging with, and whatever their style of articulation might be. Choi offers a pertinent reminder of the need for empathy and the deeper understanding that comes with it.

It’s essential that we work as hard as ever to understand the variety of modes and styles through which people articulate, so that we are better able to understand them. Ensuring an empathetic approach will go a long way to improving the breadth and quality of research for the campaigns our insight inspires, and the strategy it informs. It will show a deepening respect for parts of the public that may otherwise be left unheard, underrepresented and left susceptible to the appeal of more drastic figures professing to meet their unmet desires and needs.

Tarek Chaudhury, Flamingo

This article first appeared in Campaign Asia