Markets Focus: On the Verge of a Breakthrough
To reach Latinas, ditch the salsa and say something real
A perception exists among mainstream marketers that Hispanic teenage girls and young women may not be a willing audience for their online pitches. These consumers, the argument goes, lag behind their mainstream peers in computer ownership, time spent online, and any number of related metrics. The difficulty in reaching them in both Spanish and English supposedly renders any online marketing outreach an exercise in futility. Marketers think they'd rather be dilly-dallying with their cell phones or shopping.
What these arguments neglect to take into account, of course, is: We're dealing with 16- to 24-year-old women here! Of course they're on the Internet; they've embraced social networking, instant messaging, and other online activities. To ignore the current and future potential of this group of consumers for any of the aforementioned reasons is, to put it inelegantly, the equivalent of flushing potential lifelong brand loyalists down the commode.
When you ask Quepasa Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Robert Stearns whether marketers have taken into account the online sophistication of Hispanic teen girls and young women, you can hear his frustration.
"I'm not sure 'underestimate' does a good enough job describing it," he says. "They use the Internet for communications, for social networking, as an information-sharing device. They are incredibly commercial on the Internet. Huge opportunities are being missed."
Tim Nelson, vice president and account director at Publicis-owned Arc Worldwide, adds, "There's a predisposition to think of this group as maybe a little financially constrained in terms of being able to adopt new technology, but exactly the opposite is true."
In fact, members of this demographic barely resemble their predecessors from even a generation ago. They have more discretionary income and are extremely brand-aware. While still intensely loyal to their families, they have wider social networks, both online and offline.
Perhaps what some pundits dub "the language thing" has muddied the waters for marketers who would otherwise eagerly target young Hispanic women. While plenty of studies have been conducted vis-à-vis language preference, the bottom line is that this audience consists primarily of acculturated Latinas: second-, third-, and fourth-generation individuals who are as assimilated into the mainstream culture and comfortable communicating in English as their white, non-Latina friends.
Yes, many members of this demographic still live at home, indicating that Spanish may be the language of choice around the dinner table. But when teens and young women go to school and work, they discuss, in English, everything from "The OC" to Beyoncé.
"What companies sometimes miss is that you can't talk to [Hispanic teen girls and young women] as if you're talking to their families as well," says Tommy Thompson, managing partner of Inspire, Moroch Partners' Latino-focused arm. "Nobody in this audience lives in a cocooned world of 'I only see Hispanic things.' The consumer is looking at mainstream sites."
Today's young Hispanic women don't tolerate condescension in the online pitches targeting them, nor those that play on their Hispanic heritage.
"You know what's the worst? 'You're Hispanic - we understand Hispanics! We should talk!' Come on. These kids don't need a brand to tell them who they are," scoffs Jen Patterson, director of strategic planning at Miami-based ad agency La Comunidad.
Matt Ingber, general manager of Latina Digital Media, which oversees Latina.com, agrees.
"What [Hispanic teens and young women] think is cool is the same as what a suburban kid from Wichita thinks is cool," he says.
What does this mean to online marketers? It means the target is likely to summarily dismiss efforts that play the language and culture cards. The best online campaigns targeting this audience to date are the ones that, Patterson quips, don't employ "layers of salsa music and waving Mexican flags and all this other stereotypical stuff that marketers default to because they're afraid to take a risk."
A La Comunidad campaign on behalf of Virgin Mobile earns high points among execs who represent competing telecoms. The company, hoping to establish some credibility with this cell phone-happy audience, decided to avoid the usual drivel about plans and minutes in favor of a program that emphasized individuality.
The site, Noseasnormal.com ("no seas normal" literally means "don't be normal"), was envisioned as a quirky world unto itself. It ditched the notion of a corporate entity trumpeting its pricing and product features, which Virgin Mobile and La Comunidad maintained was a conversation young Hispanic women should be having with their parents.
"Most of what you see from these companies, teens and young adults aren't going to have much fun with," Patterson notes. "This didn't say, 'You're Hispanic.' It extended an invitation into this bizarre little world and asked them to stick around for a little while."
Which isn't to say that online entities proffering information in a more sober-minded matter will be ignored by this audience. Latina.com has carved out a niche for itself as a provider of what Patterson calls "tangible takeaways" in an effort to make the site a more appealing destination for information-seekers, not to mention advertisers.
"Some of these young women, maybe their parents didn't go to college or buy a home," Ingber says. "They can't ask, 'Hey, Mom, how'd you get your school loans?' or, 'Hey, Dad, how should I go about getting a mortgage?' Service-type content will continue to be a real attraction for this audience."
Of course, the Internet remains ground zero for entertainment content, as well. Quepasa.com scored a coup over the summer by securing the Spanish-language rights to a Web-only soap called "Alamo Heights S.A." Stearns believes the 80 or so episodes will give young Hispanic women and teenagers a compelling reason to visit Quepasa every day.
"Those [marketers] that attempt to huckster or bombard audiences will always be screened out, of course, but there seems to be a realization that the relationship has to be based on something, whether content or a community or whatever else, that isn't fleeting," Stearns says.