Hispanic Growth Putting Authentic Engagement to the Test

November 3, 2015

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Cultural relevance is becoming increasingly important across all media and communications platforms.

Unless you’re living under a rock or miraculously managed to part ways with your smartphone, it’s hard to miss the headlines about the growing influence of the Hispanic population in the United States and the transformative effect it could have on the worlds of commerce and politics. Some may think of it as hype, but the story is covered for good reason.

The Hispanic population in the U.S. more than doubled in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics accounted for nearly half of all population growth in the country since the completion of the 2010 Census. The Bureau estimates that as of 2014 Latinos (I use the terms Hispanic and Latino interchangeably, in case you’re wondering) represented more than 17% of the U.S. population.

As a result of that population growth, while total advertising spending in the U.S. has been almost flat lining since the Great Recession, advertising spending in Hispanic media has been averaging double digit growth over the past three years. According to data from Kantor Media and Ad Age Datacenter, ad spending growth for 2014 in Hispanic media was 12% versus an anemic 0.7% growth across all media.

Much of that spending growth is being captured by the large Spanish-language TV networks, Univision and Telemundo – around 75% of all Hispanic media dollars flow into TV programming. No doubt that there is some catchup effect going on, as both TV giants have argued for years that their networks have not been receiving a fair share of ad dollars proportional to their viewership share, but much of the growth responds to consumer marketers wising up to the impact that the audience can have on their bottom line.

But this rosy advertising growth picture in Spanish-language TV may be masking an underlying trend that is transforming how many marketers engage with the Hispanic market. You see, more and more Latinos are consuming a bigger share of their content and information in English; and that makes our lives as communicators more challenging – and interesting.

Data from the Winter 2015 Survey of the Simmons National Hispanic Consumer Study shows that 66% of Hispanics watch TV mostly or only in English, and when it comes to online content, English preference is even higher at 74%. For those who have facility with both languages, content type and quality are stronger factors in determining choice than language preference, although that may vary by media format.

The driving force behind this trend is the wave of younger Latinos that have been born or educated in the United States. While talk of immigration dominates the headlines, the fact is that about 65% of the country’s Latino population was born in the U.S. To put things in even sharper perspective for what lies ahead, the Census Bureau reports that more than 90% of Hispanics under the age of 18 were born in the United States. And while for the rest of the population non-adults account for 21% of the total pie, in the case of Hispanics, non-adults represent 32% of the total.

Some marketers and communicators might opt for a blanket approach and think that they will cover those Hispanics who prefer English content with their existing campaigns aimed at the general market, but what makes the conversation interesting is that many of the Hispanics who fall under that category are what researchers consider bicultural – roughly 50% of all the Latino population by most estimates.

Biculturals literally straddle the two cultures, and that means that not only are they jumping back and forth between English and Spanish depending on the specific context (more reading on this phenomenon available from Latinum Network), but they also preserve a strong connection to the culture and traditions of their countries of origin. Latinum has done some interesting research with Millennials across ethnic groups, in which Hispanics index by far the highest in what they label cultural engagement – the idea of totally embracing one’s cultural heritage and being passionate about that heritage.

The challenge that all these developments pose is that we can no longer view the Hispanic audience as one monolithic segment that can be easily reached through Spanish-language media, nor can we expect that general market campaigns and messaging exist in a vacuum that doesn’t consider the cultural values of the Hispanic (and other ethnic minority audiences) that are increasingly mixed into that general audience. Furthermore, given the fluidity of language use, betting on one language to the exclusion of the other is going to leave gaps in marketing or communications campaigns that aim to have comprehensive reach with this audience.

There will continue to be brand contexts that require dedicated campaigns for the still large segment of the Latino population that is less acculturated and relies predominantly on Spanish, but more and more marketers are adopting a Total Market approach to developing campaigns; especially brands that target Millennial and younger audiences. This approach is predicated on building communications concepts around insights that authentically reflect the point of view, experiences and cultural context of a diverse population. It strives to hone in on what we share in common, while acknowledging aspects of our cultural heritage that are uniquely relevant and make us all feel part of the conversation.

As stewards of our client brands, it is up to us as agency partners to come to the table with an integrated offering that can leverage diverse cultural insights and help our clients address this rising complexity. Only then can we aspire to deliver authentic engagement.