Latin Quarter

Arep for a Spanish-language TV station once told me about a sales presentation he made in the ’80s to the marketing head of a national advertiser based in the Midwest. It’s a tale of two cultures which went stereotypically wrong.

The rep unveiled startling charts showing the meteoric rise in the number and buying power of U.S. Latinos. He added seductive psychographics about how Hispanics are loyal and open, easy to reach with relatively inconsequential amounts of marketing dollars, and pass on brand preferences to their children like heirlooms.

He died faster than a bad comic in a biker bar. The marketing veep sat through the presentation without saying a word. At the end, he got up, walked to the window and gestured to the streets below.

“I don’t see any Hispanic faces down there,” he said.

“You aren’t looking far enough,” sighed the rep and went home.

That story probably would have a happier ending today—and we’ve explored it as part of our Media Report, which begins on page 38.

The business world is awash in multicultural divisions, Spanish radio stations are sold for a quarter of a billion dollars and newsweeklies frequently cover Latin singers who don’t, you know, look too Latin.

Still, the current fascination with all things espanol is not guaranteed to endure. Even if it does, the Hispanic agency entrepreneurs and media owners who made the whole thing possible might find themselves “acculturated” right out of the process.

Market dynamics still exist to inhibit growth; chiefly, the fact that advertisers targeting Hispanics don’t have to buy deep to buy effectively. A media plan to reach 30 million Hispanics concentrated in a handful of urban areas is not going to hit the pocketbook as hard as one that targets 270 million people in 200 markets.

Therefore, as far as Hispanic marketing has come, it will probably never enjoy spending levels proportionate to the percentage of Latinos in the total population.

Moreover, the segment’s acceptance itself creates new dilemmas. Hispanic specialists—shops, staff and TV stations—are being steadily gobbled up by global general-market giants, a loss of independence that can’t help but impact both media planning and buying and message creation.

This absorption could easily be inhibiting if Hispanic becomes just another firearm in the global ad buyer and seller arsenal—marginalized, in other words.

And finally, there’s the emergence of the bicultural, bilingual Latino, a person Hispanic marketers say is better to talk to in Spanish. But that’s simplistic. Biculturals are a new kind of American consumer, neither one nor the other, but something more.

They will require a different kind of strategy, one neither Spanish nor English, but a mixture of both. The jury is out on whether Hispanic specialists really understand this potent cultural trend.

Suddenly, everybody sees Hispanic people. But when it comes to marketing potential, seeing is not necessarily believing.