Reframing The Discussion: When The Hispanic Market Is Your General Market
Talk of the Hispanic market going mainstream is nothing new. The old Chevy Nova and “vuela en cuero” stories about the nuances of the Hispanic market have been replaced by the ubiquitous “salsa outsells ketchup” statistic, a testament to a momentous demographic shift that has been slowly, but steadily, remaking the U.S. since the 1970s. Every year, we see more data points and examples of the Hispanic market becoming the general market.
From a marketing perspective, this phenomenon is manifesting itself in many ways. Two of the biggest ways is at the market and brand level.
The 2010 Census has brought the Hispanic majority market phenomenon into full view. Hispanic majority markets are nothing new -– ask folks in Miami, San Antonio or East Los Angeles -– but besides a couple of major markets, the Hispanic majority market phenomenon was confined to neighborhoods, suburbs and specific areas of larger metropolitan markets. Today, the second-largest market in the U.S. -– Los Angeles -– is essentially a Hispanic majority market with 47.7% Hispanic population. The L.A. model is where other markets are trending, particularly when you consider areas where Hispanics make up the single largest ethnic group surpassing the non-Hispanic white population. This has happened in the city of Houston, at the state level in New Mexico and California, and is starting to happen at the state level in Texas.
At the brand level, we are seeing more of what I call “Hispanic brands.” These are either crossover brands that have their roots firmly in the Hispanic market or brands whose customer base is increasingly majority Hispanic. In the first category, think of brands like Tapatio, El Pollo Loco, and Café Bustelo, which were very much Hispanic brands, born within specific Hispanic regional markets, catering to very specific segments of the Hispanic market. El Pollo Loco started in Mexico, crossed the border into Los Angeles, and for much of its early U.S. existence catered to mostly unacculturated, recent Mexican immigrants in very Mexican neighborhoods. Today, El Pollo Loco, like the Tapatio and Café Bustelo brands, has crossed over and become popular among non-Hispanics. The second kind of “Hispanic brand” is a brand whose customer base is increasingly Hispanic or trending in that direction. Examples are fast food brands giants like McDonald’s and Taco Bell, as well as beverage brands like Kool-Aid and Clamato.
These are just two “micro” examples of how the Hispanic market is changing the “macro” market landscape. Do those of us in marketing (and you can argue American society in general – including media, government, philanthropy, etc.) need to move beyond the “niche” mentality when it comes to Hispanics and how they fit into our businesses? What happens when a niche market becomes mainstream? If there is a tectonic shift occurring in the economy, you obviously can’t keep doing things the way you’ve done them in the past, right? In our world, does the paradigm of separate and distinct Hispanic and so-called general market advertising have to change? I would argue yes.
But you need to be careful. “Mainstreaming” your Hispanic marketing and outreach efforts is not as simple as you may think. The knee-jerk approach of consolidating your Hispanic and general market advertising with a general market ad agency is not typically the solution –- especially if Hispanics are more important than they were before. Maybe you just need to lead with your Hispanic marketing efforts. This can also get problematic, as you run the risk of alienating non-Hispanics. Is there a smarter way to move forward than “combine and kill” or “lead and alienate?” I think so.
Obviously the solution and exact path forward will be different for different brands and companies, but a combination of the following is a good starting point.
Rethink your “insight” approach. Are you starting with Hispanic insights? For some brands, you can absolutely lead with Hispanic insights. At a minimum, you need to make sure your insights work across both Hispanic and non-Hispanic audiences. This last point is subtle, and plenty of ad people pay lip service to it, but few truly approach account planning this way.
Move beyond adaptation and Spanish language. Linguistic and/or cultural adaptation has been the norm in Hispanic marketing since its inception in the 1950s. Don’t treat the Hispanic consumer as an afterthought. This is a process issue. It shouldn’t be that hard, but it still happens way too often. Hand-in-hand with adaptation is the issue of Spanish language. Again, everyone in the industry talks about and seems to get this, but when it’s time to execute, too many marketers default back to a very tactical – and I would argue intellectually sloppy – approach of focusing on Spanish language execution. An effective Hispanic marketing strategy should not depend on Spanish tactics as a justification for their existence. Your brand – and Hispanic strategy – should be truly bilingual.
Embrace your Hispanicity. We should all take a page out of the “Hispanic brand” playbook – especially the brands that were born in the Hispanic market. Tapatio is proudly and unapologetically “una salsa… muy salsa.” As they have gone mainstream, their Mexican authenticity has been their strength – with both Mexicans and non-Mexicans. Even brands that are not so “Hispanic” can discover and embrace their Hispanicity – authentic and emotional attributes that connect them with Hispanics.
This is not your father’s Hispanic market anymore. Change begets change.