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The Segment Caliente

Americanized Hispanics have become more and more sexy to marketers. But how to best reach them?
  • April 15 2011

An Hispanic man is chosen to sell the virtues of life insurance to a mainstream American audience in a national television spot. A young, cool, Latina talks about her love of art and success as a painter in a Keds’ commercial targeting kids of all backgrounds. A seminar focused on attracting the young and hip Hispanic audience attracts representatives from major corporations including McDonald’s and Pepsi, along with top marketing professionals.

It’s not exactly news that Latinos are the current “it” target for marketers. But here’s an important development: The Hispanic market is becoming more Americanized. For instance, Nielsen television ratings clearly indicate that Hispanic households watch English-language cable programming more than Spanish-language shows.

“Our audience is growing with both the Spanish-language dominant and younger Englishspeaking segments,” says Victor Parada, vice president of advertising sales for Discovery Networks Latin America / U.S. Hispanic. “The common thread is they’re seeking more, different and better programming options—and not necessarily Hispanic-oriented options. Our most popular show among even Spanish-preferred audiences is Man vs. Wild.” As a result, the advertising and marketing communities are salivating over new methods to best engage this evolving audience.

This revelation will inevitably bring a distinctly different approach to Latin audiences in U.S. media marketing. Meaning: Don’t look for mustachioed Chihuahuas in sombreros. Mainstream marketers are looking for sophisticated campaigns addressing a constantly growing and more Americanized Hispanic audience and treating them as tastemakers rather than anomalies.

According to the 2010 census, Hispanics represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. And with most of that growth coming in maturing second-generationers and their kids, a new, savvy and unique market segment has emerged, making it obvious that the Hispanic consumer will provide one of the largest and most important opportunities for companies and innovative marketers—if they’re smart about it.

The U.S. Hispanic population is expected to hit 51.2 million in 2011—up nearly 21.9 million from 1990 and 14.6 million from 1980, making Latinos the largest multicultural group in the country, says a report done by the Adam R. Jacobsen Editorial and Research Consultancy in coordination with HispanicAd.com. By 2016, the Hispanic population is expected to be 58.4 million. That’s almost 20 percent of the entire U.S. population.

“A full 50 percent of our nation’s growth since the year 2000 is Hispanic and this should serve as a wake up call for marketers,” says Manny Ruiz, CEO of the Hispanicize, a media company launched last year.

Of course, with growth comes change. Spanish-language-dependent Hispanic immigrants have been eclipsed by their offspring who are either English-language-dependent or bilingual with a preference for speaking English. In fact, the 2010 census figures point to an ever-growing number of second-and third-generation kids growing up in a bilingual, bicultural environment who regularly consume English- language media and rarely use Spanish outside the home.

“The peak of Latino immigration was in the ’70s and ’80s. They had kids and now 65 percent of Hispanics were born in the U.S.,” says Ken Muench of Draftfcb Marketing, which specializes in “cross-cultural” campaigns. “Suddenly you’ve got a consumer more integrated with American culture. Everybody is trying to figure out how to play this.”

And while the evidence might sound like marketers are sticking their heads in the sand by not turning all of their attention to English-language or mainstream programs to reach the modern Hispanic consumer, both Ruiz and Muench believe that engaging the audience has to be executed with a more sophisticated approach. “Latinos across the U.S., even those who consider themselves primarily English-speaking, have a deep commitment and connection to their heritage,” Ruiz says.


So while proof of a modern, integrated and media-savvy Hispanic population is undeniable, many marketers have been hesitant to utilize all the emerging tools to reach them, or even to use English when doing so. “It represents a real departure from the traditional norm for a Hispanic agency to recommend English-language campaigns for this market,” says Muench. Adds Ruiz, “It’s what I call the Univision effect. It’s still the dominant avenue to reach Latinos and most advertisers use it. In public relations you’re seeing more of a balance, but in general, advertising is still focusing on the Spanish-speaking Latino.”

For his part, Ruiz doesn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. “Marketers need to realize we don’t resist American culture— we love and embrace it,” he says. “But we like to be a part of both worlds. We still have an emotional connection our culture. The language is a cultural identifier. That resonates with us.”

But they each agree: The smart marketers and advertisers are the ones who’ll embrace new approaches to engage the growing younger audience. “We think the real opportunity comes when you can break out of that pattern and recognize that Hispanics—and many other ethnic groups—are not only consuming modern pop culture but creating it,” says Muench. Plus, there’s a bonus: “Latinos as consumers are more brand loyal and traditional in certain things,” says Jose Tillan, general manager and executive vice president of MTV’s Hispanic network, Tr3s. “They don’t hop around from brand to brand.”

This presents a new set of opportunities for advertisers to treat Hispanics as the mainstream in their messaging.

Muench cites a sea change in cultural perception as a driving force behind his cross cultural marketing philosophy. “The GI or World War II generation either rejected or were suspicious of cultural differences in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says. “Their children, the Millennials, are actually attracted to cultural differences and embrace them.” The underlying point, says Muench, is that the best way to reach the general market is by giving voice to ethnic groups.

In fact, respondents to a recent Draftfcb national study indicated that whites were actually regarded as having the lowest credibility among ethnic groups while Latinos were seen as having the highest. “We leveraged that information and utilized a Hispanic male in one of our most successful insurance campaigns on TV,” Muench says.

“It’s getting harder and harder all the time to distinguish a Hispanic campaign from an Asian campaign from a mainstream campaign,” says Inaki Escudero, creative director at GlobalWorks. “The lines are blurring and overlapping much more than they used to because people don’t sit down to work on a campaign and think, ‘OK, now I’m going to think about a Hispanic campaign’ or “now I’m going to think about an Asian campaign.’ We really don’t separate so much anymore.”

“Our audience reflects the U.S. Hispanic population across the full spectrum,” says Jacqueline Hernández, chief operating officer for Telemundo. “They are Spanish- dominant, biculturals and English-dominant. They are U.S.-born or come from a diverse set of countries of origin. Regardless of their countries of origin, what all of our viewers have in common is a passion for their culture, and they turn to Telemundo for a cultural connection within content that is uniquely U.S. Hispanic-American.”

Daisy Exposito-Ulla, founder of New York based multicultural shop d exposito & Partners, has a more unique take on the matter: “Are Latinos more Americanized or isn’t it that America, is in fact, becoming more Latinized?”

Ruiz says that because the Hispanic market has been underserved in numerous categories, the Latino landscape is wide open for marketers and corporations willing to address it correctly. “The Hispanic market segment share is a strong indicator that there is a vast opportunity for intelligent companies looking to engage a mass, savvy and hungry audience for several product categories,” he says. “The consumer packaged goods industry spends the most to market to Hispanics. But health care, tech, and financial services are very underserved.”

Ruiz believes that social media is the most efficient and relevant marketing engine for the new tech-savvy generation of U.S. Hispanics, and he’s converting many to that point of view. Next week (April 6-11) in Hollywood he’ll host the Second Annual Hispanicize 2011 P.R. & Social Media Conference, featuring more than 70 speakers and panelists from a wide array of organizations and corporations including General Motors, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Sprint.

This year’s conference will be the first to bring together the top Latina and Latino bloggers, which, he says has significantly increased interest. “We’ve gotten four times as many sponsors after we announced the bloggers would be at the conference,” Ruiz says. “This audience is becoming more sophisticated in media usage and marketers are recognizing they can best engage our youth through social media and other non-traditional channels.”


About the Sponsor

Discovery Networks Latin America/U.S. Hispanic launched in 1994. Today, 13 media brands reach 138 million cumulative subscribers across 34 countries and territories.

Discovery Channel Latin

A New York-based advertising agency offering a full range of marketing, advertising, multicultural and digital services.


Tr3s is an American cable, satellite and over-the-air network that prides itself as a bi-cultural entertainment destination.

MTV Tr3s

mun2 is a national cable television broadcast network in the United States owned by NBC Universal and aimed at young Latinos.


Telemundo is an American television network that broadcasts in Spanish. The network is the second-largest Spanish-language content producer in the world, and the second-largest Spanish-language network in the United States.


Univision is a Spanish-language television network in the United States. It has the largest audience of Spanish language television viewers according to Nielsen ratings, largely due to telenovelas, other programming produced by Grupo Televisa, and the network's sports coverage, which consists almost exclusively of football (soccer).