Marketers Still Don’t Get It

New study says Hispanic youth think U.S advertisers don’t connect

Nearly four-fifths (79%) of 14- to 34-year-old Hispanics cannot identify a brand that accurately targets young Latinos, according to a major new study released at a New York conference—Me2: Understanding the Young Latino in America—last week.

“It shows that this is a group that is not being well-served by existing media,” says Sharon Lee, co-president and co-founder of the unusually named Look-Look, a marketing company that conducted the study on behalf of Telemundo’s youth-oriented network, Mun2. “There is a huge opportunity here for anyone who understands their needs and learns how to engage them.”

Antoinette Zel, senior executive VP for network strategy at Telemundo, adds that the typical marketing strategy of simply using multicultural ads on youth-oriented media such as MTV and The WB, or translating ads into Spanish, clearly isn’t working.

“Everyone is missing a very important audience in terms of purchasing power and their population growth,” she says.

Does Language Matter?

Earlier studies have focused on the important issues of language usage as a measure of media effectiveness. There’s a lively debate about what language young Hispanics prefer to get their media in and how that may change over years.

A 2004 study of young Hispanics by the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies found that a large majority (68%) of Hispanics age 18-34 were Spanish-dominant or bilingual and more than half were foreign-born.

Although young Hispanics watched about the same amount of English-language television as Spanish-language, the study concluded that Spanish-language TV was the most effective way to reach the group.

The Look-Look study, which included a quantitative survey of 1,800 Hispanic youths and an in-depth qualitative look at their attitudes, took a different approach, focusing on attitudes and lifestyles as the best ways to define the group.

“Over and over, we heard young Latinos complaining that they didn’t want to be defined by looks—darker hair, eyes or skin—and that they were tired of being asked to prove they were Hispanic by speaking Spanish,” says Look-Look’s Lee.

Identity Changes with Context

When asked how they defined themselves, young Hispanics in the Look-Look study identified themselves first as being part of a youth culture, then as Hispanics and third as Americans.

Their identity as Latinos was also extremely fluid, changing with the social context. Many said they acted more Latino at home or with their Hispanic friends but might act more American in school.

And, in many places, both identities were in play, with 59% of young Hispanics saying they were both American and Hispanic in public places and nearly half saying they express both identities in school or with non-Hispanic friends.

The study also found that young Hispanics had high aspirations for the future, and it outlined a series of attitudes—being family-oriented, proud of their heritage, hardworking, religious and success-oriented—that play key roles in defining the Latino identity.

While many expressed strong attachments to their country of origin and worried that they might lose their culture, a very large majority (77%) also saw themselves as being in control of their identities. That is a marked break from earlier immigrant populations, who faced significant pressures to assume a certain Americanized identity.

Lee argues that Hispanics today are not “just sitting back and accepting an outside view of themselves. They are very much developing and customizing their own identities.”

Another significant break in the current Hispanic population from earlier immigrant groups, Lee believes, is that “they are very success-oriented but they want to stay connected to their family and heritage. In the past, to achieve the American dream, people felt you had to leave your community. [Young Hispanics today] don’t feel that need. They want to succeed, but they don’t want to abandon their community.”

The study also stresses that second-generation Latinos, a group that tends be more acculturated, are a growing part of the Hispanic community.

Millie Carrasquillo, senior VP of research, Telemundo Network, notes that, in the 2000 U.S. Census, about 40% of all Hispanics were first-generation and 28% were second-generation.

The second generation is growing much faster, however, and by 2020 will comprise about 36% of all Hispanics in the U.S., slightly more than the 34% that are first-generation immigrants.

Based on the study, Zel argues that “they move back and forth between different worlds and the media we deliver shouldn’t force them to choose one culture over another. We should embrace the hybrid world they live in and address the complexity of their lives in our programming.”

That will, however, require some investment, both in the quality of ads and in programming.

“They are part of a global youth culture,” Lee says. “They expect that the media targeted to them have the same quality. If you’re going after them and you’re not producing at a high level, they will notice it.”