Hispanic Study Reveals Marketing-Critical Complexities


Marketing effectively to U.S. Hispanics requires an understanding of diverse psychographics, identity profiles and emerging segments that goes well beyond the language, country of origin and acculturation level targeting definitions now in standard use, according to newly released research jointly conducted by Starcom MediaVest Group and NBC Universal's Telemundo.

The year-long "Beyond Demographics" study began with an in-depth exploration of Hispanic culture and identity factors with a diverse group of Latino leaders who acted as "cultural translators." This was followed by extensive bilingual quantitative surveys and an "exhaustive" qualitative study fielded with Latinos 18 and older representing the full spectrum of the community within seven key markets (Miami, New York, San Antonio, Houston, Los Angeles and Raleigh, N.C.).



The research delved into Hispanics' consumer habits and brand experience preferences, as well as cultural/identity nuances.

The research identified and studied 12 core Latino identity profiles that reflect marked "fluidity" in language preference, assimilation level, retention of traditional culture, economic status, career and ambition levels, political affiliations, religious beliefs/spiritual practices, artistic endeavors, and urban versus rural biases, among other factors.

The spectrum of profiles ranges from "New Arrivals" and "Traditionals" to "Modern Independent Achievers" (MIA's), "Strivers," "Elites," "Social Challengers," "Spirituals," and "Global Latinos" (whose interests in new cultures and experiences span the globe), among others. (Click for PDF of capsule profile descriptions.)

At the same time, the study identified four personality types that are common to or found within all of these divergent lifestyle groups: agents for change (for themselves or the community); the "principled-led" (dogmatic, confident in their beliefs/opinions); cultural revivers (responsible for retaining/promoting the traditional culture); and the achievement bound (representing spectrums of the American dream).

Esther Franklin, EVP, director of cultural identities for SMG Multicultural, a division of Starcom MediaVest Group, shared some of the key research takeaways for marketers with Marketing Daily:

  • Rather than focusing just on the "expected" or better-understood (and generally larger) profile groups, such as traditionalists, marketers should be preparing now to communicate effectively with emerging groups such as "Los Exitosos" (seamless environmental adapters who are maneuvering between the mainstream and Hispanic cultures in a positive way), says Franklin.
  • There is considerable dissatisfaction among Hispanics about the narrow, stereotypical portrayals that are currently dominant in most media/marketing -- and in cultural benchmarks such as the U.S. Census (which asks about Hispanics' countries of origin, but does not include Hispanic as one of the options within the racial category question).

For example, this new study found that when asked about skin color, 50% of Hispanic respondents identified themselves as white, but nearly the same combined percentage (46%) identified themselves as brown, mestizo, mulatto or black. Yet, media and advertising skew heavily to portraying white-skinned Hispanics, points out Franklin.

The common portrayals of Hispanic women as "overly sexualized" also offend Hispanics, who "want to see more realistic, real-world" portrayals, says Franklin.

Another finding confirming the true diversity of attitudes and lifestyles among Hispanics: Far from being put off by a question about sexual orientation, more than 90% of respondents answered the question, and between 4% and 5% identified themselves as lesbian, gay or transsexual.

  • Use of Spanish versus English is fluid and dynamic, rather than either/or. Outside of certain segments such as new arrivals (who, by the way, comprise only 10% of the Hispanic population), Hispanics tend to "toggle" between Spanish and English -- and "Spanglish" -- in "highly contextualized and nuanced" ways, stresses Franklin. The lesson: Relying on assumptions about dominant language for targeting or messaging is far too simplistic.
  • Similarly, understanding varying levels of "cultural dexterity" among Hispanics, rather than relying on simplistic definitions of "level of acculturation," should be a key in marketing and programming/content decisions. "In pragmatic terms, it's difficult to translate the concept of 'acculturation' into buying media," for example, says Franklin.

The complexity of this factor is illustrated when one considers that identity groups range from the aforementioned seamless environmental adapters to new arrivals to "Retro Acculturators." The last group includes younger Hispanics who grew up in the U.S., have a heavily mainstream orientation and are searching to "rediscover" their Latino roots. Retros "are no more culturally dexterous than new arrivals," Franklin points out.

  • Together, the language fluidity and cultural dexterity factors add many layers of complexity that should be considered by advertisers/marketers and both general and Hispanic media in shaping their messaging/media choices and programming/ content.

The findings raise questions, for instance, such as whether Hispanic television networks might serve viewer segments by incorporating English or Spanglish in contextually appropriate ways, and whether there might be room for incorporating Spanglish in contextually appropriate ways in mainstream television programming with high Hispanic viewership, says Franklin.

SMG previously conducted identity research on African-Americans and Chinese Americans, and is currently sharing results of the African-American study and working with content providers to help provide them with a "roadmap" to assist in decisions, she adds.

Meanwhile, Telemundo has already begun employing knowledge gleaned from the Latino identity research to build on its deep knowledge of its Hispanic audience, reports Jacqueline Hernandez, COO of Telemundo Communications Group. Last year, based on the initial work with the consortium of Latino leaders and the 12 profiles they helped to identify for further research, the media company decided to begin "layering" nuances into programming under development, she says.

For example, certain personality or archetypal characteristics were written into the main characters in "Mas Sabe el Diablo," a recently aired novela. (For the uninitiated, novelas, dramatic series aired five nights per week and usually ranging in length from 90 to 150 episodes, are hugely popular among Latinos throughout the world.)

That novela's male lead was shown toggling among use of Spanish, English or Spanglish depending on the environment or group, and the female lead was an "MIA" -- independent, decisive, career-minded and technologically savvy, notes Hernandez.

Telemundo will now be using the full research results to add even greater nuances and relevance in its programming, Hernandez confirms.

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