This country’s big media content producers, whether they produce in Spanish or in English, are in danger. The danger they face is two pronged. On the one hand, the film and television industries seem satisfied to keep producing content that appears to ignore or somehow overlook the real face of America today. Of course, they cannot really be blamed because they have been getting away with it for so long. The studios or networks might point to a current sitcom or two and say: we are multicultural, we are diverse. Why would people object? It’s just entertainment, what should we expect? We could take issue with that assessment but, in reality, it’s probably a moot point.
The real threat to the way entertainment is produced today is the radically changing nature of content production itself. Content today can come from anywhere and, every day, more and more of it is coming from Latinos; Latinos over index (vs. the General Market) on all kinds of digital content creation, as has been written about here and in other spaces recently. But the news is not just that Latinos are more tech savvy than people thought. The real news is that while Latino influence is underrepresented in shrinking Hollywood, it is growing in the media world that is also growing, the digital space.
Latinos are leading the way in the domain that matters more every day. “Sh#t Miami Girls Say,” (if you have ever spent time in Miami, you should watch it) with nearly a million views on YouTube, was created in L.A., but not by any studio. It was a handful of Miami transplants working on their own that created this minor hit. The significance of content like this is bigger than the number of hits or views it gets. The significance is that, by comparison, the high production value feature films, sitcoms, novelas and singles seem more and more artificial, distant and out of touch with how Latinos live and what they know.
Digital content is the new folk music, the new outsider art; it exists in stark juxtaposition to the formal content created by studios and networks. And as this informal content gains popularity, our standards for what is authentic will evolve. I can imagine a time in the not-so-distant future in which the films and TV we see in this country today will look like the Pollyannaish productions of the Depression Era; smiles too big, songs too cheerful, situations too absurd to be interesting. And it’s because the new media that we Latinos are creating more and more is constantly redefining what we want to connect with.
Which presents a problem for marketers whose standards for authenticity have typically lagged well behind the already stiff major producers of content. How will the content we create today feel to Latinos whose have seen or, even more importantly, produced the latest online hit? How can we on the agency side help our clients get closer to creating something authentic for the Latinos they want to reach? In reality, the problem is bigger than just a Hispanic one, but Hispanic may be the best place to start shifting the course. Because one of the great advantages to working in the Hispanic space is that culture is rarely taken for granted. Clients are more inclined to recognize that culture needs to be considered carefully when dealing with the U.S. Hispanic market, whereas in the general market, culture is often taken for granted.
Marketers that continue to ignore these evolving standards for authenticity may start to feel outdated and unrealistic to Latinos; the difference between their advertising and “real” communications will become even more pronounced. And its hard to imagine that those brands will succeed in communicating relevance to the Latinos they want to reach, who, ironically, are the very people raising the bar for communicating with them. We need to look at what they are generating and consuming outside of the “studio system,” learn from it, and be inspired by it when we want to communicate with them.