By David Chitel
When I started working in the U.S. Hispanic market I was 23 years old. And yes, I’m going to call it the “U.S. Hispanic,” not “Latinx” market. I hope its OK for an OG like me to abbreviate it down even further to “USH,” as it makes for easier reading, but I digress. It was the early 90’s. The place was New York City. It was my first day at SiboneyUSA advertising. My passion for all things “Spanish,” after spending a semester abroad somehow led me to a career in a market that was for all intents and purposes blowing up in the best possible way. Little did I know at the time that the USH market was the fastest growing U.S. population sector. USH advertising spending was going up and to the right. There were tons of USH agencies and USH “Centers Of Excellence” (COE’s) popping up everywhere. Univision and Telemundo were the Google and Facebook of our world. The energy of our marketplace was fun, palpable and infectious. Urban Latino magazine was in the process of being born. Their parties were “off the hook,” and filled with New Generation Latinos (NGLs) who saw the future and understood even then that our story was changing. Like all stories, ours in the USH market was one that was constantly evolving, and taking us along with it. But did we just going along for the ride, or did we truly take control of our own narrative?
Flash-forward to 2018, some 25 years later, and here we are. So much has changed but, well, you know the rest. In an OpEd piece I wrote last summer entitled, ‘Wake Up And Smell The Cafecito, The Despacito And the Total U.S. Hispanic Market,’ I expound in 5,000+ words on the roadmap that I feel we need to follow as an industry. It’s worth a read if you have a solid 17 minutes and 53 seconds to spare, give or take a few seconds.
The truth of the matter is that amidst the extreme change (with a splash of chaos) that our industry is currently experiencing, it’s our job to change the story that, in my opinion, seems to have gotten away from us. Only if WE change the story, can WE change the outcome. So what’s the story I’m hearing out in the marketplace? It depends who you ask, but for some it’s “Spanish-language media is dying.” For others, it’s “Total Market is killing our industry,” or “no one can seem to get the in-culture formula right.” To me, it’s all just negative bullshit. No one is immune to the shift the media and marketing industry is experiencing for more reasons than I can count on two hands (that’s ten fingers, folks).
Smart marketers know that the USH market still represents a massive growth opportunity. For instance, USHs currently number 57 million people with a birth-to-death ratio of 8 to 1 (vs. 0 to 1 for non-Hispanics). For those doing the math, USHs will represent upwards of 20% of the total U.S. population by the time the 2020 Census results are revealed. But in today’s increasingly fragmented and niche media marketplace, how can brands reach their “General Market” audiences AND the multifaceted USH audience, and be effective? In other words, how can brands be all things to all people? Well, they can’t, and contrary to “Total Market” thinking, a one-sized approach does not fit all no matter what you wish your P&L spreadsheet to tell you. The marketing world is actually moving in a completely different direction. A more nuanced 1 to 1 direction that absolutely applies to the USH market as well.
Marketers have been studying the USH marketplace for decades and have made significant investments attempting to tap into the dual identity of the so-called “200%” segment. These consumers see themselves as BOTH 100% American AND 100% Latino. But let’s be honest; biculturalism and this idea of USH duality has ALWAYS been a reality in America – think Desi Arnaz, Rita Moreno, Cheech Marin, John Leguizamo and so many others. It didn’t just emerge with millennials and Gen Zers, like Gina Rodriguez or Becky G.
My company, NGL Collective, practices a three-pronged approach that goes deeper – a 300% approach. A more nuanced “sum of the parts” strategy addressing the USH totality, leveraging all of the digital tools and technology available today. Each step of NGL’s in-language, in-culture and in-context “300%” approach serves a purpose, and avoids marginalization of any one USH segment. After all, the power of the USH market is driven by the power of its totality, not just English-speakers, Spanish-speakers or the “youth sector” as some would lead you to believe. It’s about ALL of it.
IN-LANGUAGE (Spanish creative & media):
When people refer to connecting with U.S. Hispanics “in language,” they mean Spanish. Although it’s clear that U.S.-born Latinos prefer to consume media in English, consumption of Spanish-language media among bilingual Latinos remains high. Upwards of 40% of U.S. Hispanic Millennial (18-34 year olds) are actually foreign-born, and therefore, bilingual or Spanish-dominant. Spanish-language media remains a critical component of reaching and engaging New Generation Latinos (NGLs).
Let there be no doubt, Spanish, was and always will be the most efficient way for advertisers to reach and engage large, concentrated masses of U.S. Hispanics. Regardless of Spanish-language TV rating declines, the Spanish-dominant/Bilingual population is “going away.” In fact, when it comes to marketing to U.S. Hispanics, NGL is on the side of both English AND Spanish as necessary tactics.
IN-CULTURE (English or bilingual creative, delivered in a culturally-relevant environment):
When people refer to connecting with Latinos “in-culture” they likely mean to say that Spanish is a possible tactic, but English is the more likely choice. Consider that USHs are the youngest major racial or ethnic group in the U.S. according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Altogether, nearly 6 in 10 U.S. Hispanics are Millennials or younger. Gen-Z will be the first non-White majority generation, largely because of USH population growth. In other words, USHs are driving the growth of the most coveted target demographic groups in the U.S. From a creative perspective, brands benefit from added target relevance and connection when their ads have gestures (aka “winks”) made to NGLs through English-language or bilingual creative that indicates you (the brand) understand exactly who they are and what they’re all about. It can be as simple as integrating a cultural cue that NGLs will get, but the rest of your audience will still appreciate. It’s not about “us or them,” or putting NGLs into a proverbial “USH box,” which they hate. It’s also definitely not about doing a translation of a “General Market” spot. On the contrary, it’s all about acknowledging cultural nuances in new and progressive ways without perpetuating stereotypes. For media buyers and planners, there are so many ways to connect with NGLs in-culture. I’m referring to taking your “winking” creative, or perhaps creative that speaks even more directly to NGLs, and placing it in heavily skewed NGL media environments. This should definitely include NGL platforms like Remezcla and Being Latino, bilingual/urban (and even Spanish) radio stations, NGL social influencer programs, NGL branded content programs, NGL musical artist/celebrity associations and beyond.
IN-CONTEXT (English creative, targeting USH in a non-USH endemic environment):
There’s a saying amongst NGL enthusiasts when it comes to speaking to this audience in-context, and that is “culture (often) begets cultures.” It’s to say that New Generation Latinos don’t live every minute of every day of their lives in a Latino bubble. There are many facets of their lives that have nothing to do with being Latino, and everything to do with just being Millennials and Gen Zers. This experience often mixes with other cultures, albeit with significant USH skews. It doesn’t have to be a USH-endemic environment to effectively target bilingual and English-speaking NGLs. For example, anecdotally I can tell you that BET (Black Entertainment Television) tends to garner a high percentage of USH viewers, as does Court TV, late night sports shows and countless others. Who knew? It’s as simple as doing a Nielsen and/or Rentrak run against bilingual and English-dominants to create a schedule against which to run your in-culture creative. For digital it can be as easy as checking a USH box on Google or Facebook buying platforms and running an A-B test. The same can be done for any other digital platform (directly or programmatically) if you have the right team managing and optimizing your campaign. It doesn’t have to be a USH-endemic environment to effectively target bilinguals and English-dominants. It’s about finding where they are by using the plethora of data and media tools that buyers and planners have at their fingertips, and being forward-thinking with your targeting strategies and measurement.
All of this is to say, it’s time to own up to the fact that the USH market and, frankly the entire media, marketing and entertainment space is evolving at a meteoric rate, the likes of which none of us have ever seen. Rather than putting all of our eggs in any one USH basket to over-compensate for the “Total Market” rhetoric that’s flying around, how about we OWN OUR ENTIRE STORY. Our story has NEVER been about Spanish OR English OR the so-called “Latino Youth.” How many advertisers are even targeting “Latino Youth” (ie. – Latinos under 18)? Our story has ALWAYS been about the sum of the parts, the 23 different nationalities that make up the USH population, the east and the west, the north and the south, the NGLs, the Millennials the Gen-Zr’s and everything in between. ALL of these critical pieces ladder up to a unique, beautiful and supremely powerful USH marketplace that spends upwards of $2 trillion per year. That’s power and clout, folks. Let’s use it. Let’s embrace it, let’s own our narrative and carry it into the future the way we know how to as an industry. If we change our story, we change our outcome. I’m 300% sure of it.