A Look Back At Our Wake

by , Dec 26, 2013, 10:30 AM
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When I begun my career, “Hispanic” was not even a common term. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t a nice one. Or at least, many of us didn’t feel a connection to it. Back then, it was “Latino advertising” (not that I ever felt very Latino either) and Latino advertising was in Spanish. Just as most of the “Hispanic/Latino” population at that time was watching TV and listening to radio (the two mainstream, mass media outlets at the time), in Spanish. 

Twenty years ago, a good portion of Hispanic advertising included many stereotypes. Commercials featured the big nuclear family, with abuela as the matron of her clan happily, blatantly, endorsing household items they all knew — and had used all their life — in their counties of origin. And for some reason, it felt familiar and comfortable. It brought a bit of home back. 

Most of the advertising agencies that created those ads were Hispanic or Latino. They operated following a model that responded to the needs of the market and made the most of the media outlets available.

Back then, the total Hispanic population in the U.S. was under 25 million, and most were recent immigrants.

Now, even though the influx of immigrants is at an all time high, much of the growth in population can be attributed to second- and third-generation, American born children of previous immigrants. In fact, in the golden range of 18- to 25-year-old Hispanic Millennials, two-thirds are not recent immigrants and speak both English and Spanish.

Today, we also have the internet, social media, smart phones and an ever more connected world. All new ways of communicating with consumers, with a far wider reach and level of interactivity than TV or radio ever did. But this vast new landscape has not yet been completely mapped out. And navigating it still presents some challenges, especially when it comes to targeting a specific group of consumers. Like Hispanics.

But that’s not all that has changed, either. The advertising industry that is trying to help brands communicate with these “new consumers” through all the currently available channels has also experienced a major shift. No longer are the agencies “Hispanic” or “Latin;” they are now multicultural agencies or in some cases, multicultural branches of general market agencies.

The spots these agencies produce now reflect the economical and cultural evolution of this segment of the Hispanic population by portraying them as accomplished, successful and somewhat acculturated. Many of these commercials are in English and broadcasted or streamed through general market outlets. Surprisingly, some of them still rely on the large nuclear families with abuela included.

Why are these models still being used?

Perhaps it is because, in spite of the fact that 40% of Millennial Hispanics are bilingual and see themselves as a sort of hyphenated culture (both Hispanic and American), they choose to live according to some of the aspects that have always been part of Hispanic culture. Or perhaps, some things will never change. And when the things that persist are strong family ties and values, optimistic expectations about the future, and the desire to improve oneself through education and financial prudence, it is a sign of cultural aspects that are important to preserve, understand, respect, learn from and share. Not so different from what makes any culture human.

Regardless of all the changes everywhere, the wake left behind on the fabric of this country by Hispanics is both a way of understanding where we’ve been as well as a compass for where we are headed. 

Footnote: This is my 22nd year as a Mexican immigrant in New York. Happy 2014 to all.

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