The Great Spanglish Controversy

Discussion
Feb 02, 2005
George Anderson

By Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, CEO, Principal, Enlace Communications, Inc.

Susanna Whitmore, SVP Business Development, New American Dimensions and Laura Sonderup, Director, Heinrich Hispanidad contributed to this report.

The number of conferences dedicated to the topic of US Hispanic marketing has increased exponentially over the past two to three decades. When I entered this industry in 1979, there were about 8 million Latinos living in the United States and I could count the annual conferences on one hand. Today, there are upwards of 40 million consumers loosely defined as Latino or Hispanic and it feels like there may be as many conferences in a given year.

At one such event held this past week in Miami, the 11th SRI Hispanic Marketing Conference, I was struck by a shift in the content of the program and the attitudes of the attendees (which included top level marketers from Citibank, GMAC Mortgage, Ballys Fitness, Coors Beer and others).

Historically, marketers have been presented with demographically detailed presentations about several tried and true topics which included: the growth of the US Hispanic market (fueled by birth rate and immigration), the brand loyalty of the US Hispanic market (full of personal anecdotes about choosing a cereal in the US for the very first time) and the important role that the Spanish language and Spanish language media played in the lives of Latinos nationwide (accompanied by reassuring research that indicated that ads in Spanish were significantly more effective with this target than ads in English).

So how was this conference different?

First, there were virtually no packaged PowerPoint presentations insisting we understand that Latinos will represent a full 25 percent of the United States in the not too distant future. It was doubtful that anyone in the audience did not already know that. But unlike audiences of days gone by, who would have stared at the sizeable statistic in shock and awe, this group would have been less than impressed. I call this generation of marketers the Segmentation Seekers. They are not interested in looking at the US Hispanic market in the aggregate as their predecessors were. Instead, they are using assorted approaches to break this market into more meaningful marketing pieces.

Language segmentation is among the most common and the most controversial of segmentation starting points. Marketers and agencies can literally come to blows over the subject of being bi – (bilingual that is). But language is just one episode in what can feel like a reality show called “Segmenting the Segment.”

SiTV said, “no, not si” to the idea that Spanish is the language of choice among young, upscale Latinos. Instead, their programming and their advertisers speak to the audience’s cultural identity, achieving relevance and resonance in English or in the bilingual blending of English and Spanish commonly referred to as Spanglish or code-switching.

“Language of choice” is becoming increasingly important in marketing decision-making as the Hispanic consumer marketplace gradually shifts from one dominated by immigrants to one comprised of individuals born in the United States and raised with English language media.

The argument against the Spanish-only approach is clear, say proponents, when you look at the numbers. Today, nearly 70 percent of Latinos in the U.S. are under the age of 35 and 65 percent of them are U.S. born. According to some, at least seventy percent of the growth in the domestic Hispanic population over the next generation is expected to come from Latinos born in the U.S.

There is also the age-old debate about whether you can really use the same advertising approach to market to Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Americans Central and South. Is regional segmentation required? And if so, how does one reckon with the growing presence of Mexicans in New York and Miami, markets that historically were dominated by Puerto Ricans and Cubans respectively?

Marketers responsible for higher end brands or complex financial products are prioritizing income segmentation. And rightly so, as it is a waste of valuable resources to address advertising for a premium home loan to a consumer without established credit. This is as true in non-Latino markets as it is in this market segment. The problem is that for too long, Latinos were simply all lumped together; the rich and the poor, those who prefer Spanish and those who don’t, the cyber-savvy and the cyber-challenged, the traditionalists and the try-anythings, and so on and so on. As diverse as people are is as diverse as Latinos are, and this diversity is what provides marketers with so many rich options for selective targeting and creative choices. Citibank, for example, identified a new credit card opportunity by acknowledging that Latinos did not fall into their traditional marketing buckets of prime and sub-prime. As such, the idea of a “non-prime” consumer was born.

Moderator’s Comment: At what point does segmentation limit a marketer’s ability to get anything done? Are there any examples in the retail arena of applying
segmentation to the benefit of the brand?

George Anderson – Moderator

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