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October 27, 2004
Su Voto Es Su Voz (Your Vote is Your Voice)

I was at a voter registration rally last week at a local television station in Los Angeles. It was sponsored by Chevrolet, whose current Spanish tagline is "Subete con Chevrolet" (Step Up with Chevrolet). How appropriate since the Latino community is "stepping up" their influence as a political force. In fact, 7 million Latinos are expected to turn out at the polls next week, an increase of over a million voters since the 2000 election. Both political parties have taken notice and have invested millions in Spanish language media this year to woo Latino voters.

Hopefully this political coming of age for the Latino community will soon be followed by an advertiser awareness of our consumer power as well. The nearly 40 million Latinos in the U.S. spend $740 billion on consumer goods and services annually and will reach $1 trillion in the next three years. We are the "baby boomers" of the 21st century. Accordingly, we are buying homes and furnishing them; purchasing new autos; and shopping for consumer electronics, clothing, and groceries at a higher rate per household than non-Latinos. The bottom line is we index higher in purchase and consumption versus non-Latinos in just about every category of consumer goods and services. However, that news hasn't obviously reached the vast majority of advertisers in the U.S. A recent study by the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies reported only 50 of the top 671 advertisers are spending in proportion to Latino purchase and consumption of their brands. In fact, of 17 different categories of consumer goods and services, only 2 had spending at the "right level", i.e. consumer electronics retailers and food and drug stores. At the "rock bottom" were financial services, apparel manufacturers, and pharmaceuticals. Why are the vast majority of advertisers unconvinced that Latino consumers are worth pursuing? Why is there no line item for Latino marketing in most corporate marketing budgets?

The short answer is that many marketers continue to see Latinos in the most simplistic of terms. Until a few years ago, nearly every ad featured the "happy Hispanic family" or other stereotypical images of Latinos regardless of whether the pitch was for cars, food or soft drinks. What we call the "guacamole factor". Or worse, advertisers have their general market agency translate the ad and/or campaign concept into Spanish without regard to the cultural nuances and mindsets of the Latino consumers they are trying to reach. The longer answer involves the lack of diversity in the boardrooms, executive offices, and marketing departments of most major corporations, with the exception of the crew that cleans their offices at night. Combine both of these reasons and you begin to understand how the country's largest ethnic group still gets overlooked.

It's not for lack of efforts to measure the purchasing patterns and consumer behavior of Latinos. People en Espanol, in conjunction with the Cheskin research organization, has conducted three major studies called Hispanic Opinion Tracker. Among their key findings is that Latinos are very likely to integrate the different dimensions of life, such as work and play, as opposed to keeping them separate. This has broad implications for creative strategies and media choices, as does the finding that 83% of the 4,000 Hispanics surveyed indicated that they prefer to speak Spanish at home, while 59% also indicated speaking at least some English. Not surprisingly, Latinos prefer Spanish-language media and content that is culturally relevant.

Young Latinos in particular are the subject of considerable scrutiny. A recent study by MTV probed the media habits of Latino youth, 12-24, and concluded that this age group spends more time reading, listening to the radio and using computers than do their Caucasian and African-American peers. While Latino youths spend about the same amount of time: 6.6 hours per week-on leisure activities as non-Latinos, they spend more leisure time without media: socializing, shopping and movie-going. This presents a huge opportunity for teen-oriented retailers and movie studios. It is also a challenge when trying to reach this young audience through traditional measured media. It calls for fresh thinking on the part of advertisers and agencies. But it's worth it, because Latinos are demographically younger than any other ethnic group in America. It pays to create brand loyalty as early as possible.

Some advertisers are leading the way. Global brands like Crest and Coke have very effective Latino marketing communications programs because they are infused with real emotions and values and leverage the brand equity they have built in Latin America. Kraft has been busy educating Latino parents about the allure of macaroni and cheese, because they never had to contemplate this kiddie-oriented cuisine in the "old country." The automotive industry has finally awakened from its deep sleep and advertisers such as the aforementioned Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota have significantly increased their spending to Latinos and are seeing double digit sales growth as a result.

Wake up Corporate America and smell the beautiful aroma of Juan Valdez's coffee. We're not going away, won't stop speaking Spanish, and will start voting with our dollars. Take a page from our two presidential candidates and start campaigning now to win our vote.

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Victor Ornelas launched Ornelas and Associates in 1988 and has built it into a $75 million agency with national clients. He has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by Hispanic Business Magazine. With the Hispanic market booming, Victor is fast becoming one of the world's advertising superstars.

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