We're Not The Market

A veteran Hispanic marketing professional gave me sage advice the other day. Over a lively dinner conversation, he recounted his 30+ year history in Hispanic marketing – how he got into the business, what the industry looked like in the ’80s, and some tall tales about the larger-than-life personalities and key moments of the early days of Hispanic marketing. He recounted some simple advice received from a renowned Hispanic ad agency founder who told him: “Never forget – you’re not the market.”

That market is the U.S. Hispanic consumer market. He was reminding my colleague (who was a U.S. born, second-generation Hispanic, for whom Spanish was a second language) to never make the mistake of thinking he was anything like the “Hispanic market” so many large corporations were beginning to pay attention to. He went on to remind him to make sure he watched Spanish TV on a regular basis to never lose sight of the “real” Hispanic consumer.



That simple advice, given more than 30 years ago, got me thinking about today’s Hispanic market. Is that advice still valid today? How has the Hispanic market changed since then? How has it stayed the same? It was a simple statement that cut to an existential question about Hispanic marketing – how relevant is it today, and how “different” are Hispanics from everyone else in the so-called “general market.”

How it’s still true

That advice rekindled a struggle I face in running an ad agency that develops Hispanic advertising: many on my team live different lives from a large swath of the Hispanic consumers we target. I worry that most on my team are disconnected, working in fancy offices in downtown Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., living in gentrified upper-middle-class urban and suburban neighborhoods. Our focus on digital Hispanic marketing often brings us face to face with this reality, where we see very different digital access and behavior than that of our own – as savvy digital marketers. 

There is arguably a bigger chasm between the practitioners and audience for Hispanic marketing than ever before. The growth of Hispanic marketing means more money and wealth generated by increasingly larger Spanish media, Hispanic advertising and research companies.

For my part, I spend lots of time making sure our team douses itself in the Hispanic market, albeit artificially, via immersions, field research and spending time consuming Hispanic media.

How it’s no longer true

As the Hispanic market in the U.S. has grown, it has radically changed. Since the 1980s, the Hispanic population has gone from a primarily foreign-born, middle-to-lower income immigrant population into an acculturated, higher socioeconomic ethnic group that is more than 60% native born. Arguably, a majority of U.S. Hispanics are more like the professional Hispanic marketers. Many more are bilingual or English-dominant, highly educated, and working in white-collar, professional environments. The data on Hispanic digital penetration reinforces this.

In many ways, today’s Hispanic marketer could more credibly say they are a good representative of a large segment of the market they are helping brands reach.

Are we more like the Hispanic market or not?

So which is it? While not one to straddle the fence when it comes to difficult questions, I feel it’s a bit of both, reflecting how complicated and nuanced the Hispanic market has become. Some segments of the Hispanic market are less like us than they were 30 years ago. However a growing group of Hispanic consumers looks more professional than ever. It’s almost as if there are two Hispanic markets requiring two different types of agencies to reach them.

3 comments about "We're Not The Market".
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  1. Jaime Vazquez from Legacy Marketing Partners, April 4, 2013 at 2:07 p.m.

    Good post. The way I look at it, whether Hispanic or not, it's all about being a good marketer. Truly understanding your segment and becoming immersed in your target breaks down any types of barriers. Now, being Hispanic myself certainly helps me better know my consumers's cultural nuances but still doesn't excuse me from the most important aspect of branding...and that's being a good marketer.

  2. Jorge Berrios from The Upper Room Ministries, April 4, 2013 at 6:13 p.m.

    Very good post. We need to immersed in the market to better understand the nature and realities of the group.

  3. James Bilello from US Marketing, Inc., April 4, 2013 at 9:56 p.m.

    Jose, here's the thing - Hispanics are increasing their attendance in America's colleges and universities but are still very much lagging behind the general population so their ability to become mainstream professionals is still in the minority. That may very well change in one more generation but is simply not the case right now. This excerpt from a recent article Aug 26, 2012 in Hispanic Market Weekly is instructive:
    ...."Just last week, a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that Latino students today are the largest minority group on college campuses, a first in the U.S. The number of 18-24-year-old Hispanics enrolled in four year colleges increased 20 percent from one million in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2011.

    Today, there are two million 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics in college, representing 16.5 percent of all enrollments. Another 62.7 percent of college students are non-Latino whites and 13 percent are African-American.

    From 2010-2011, the Latino college attendance increased 15 percent, Pew found. Overall, college enrollment grew by 3 percent. The numbers are a marked difference from 1972 when the Hispanic share of college students was 2.9 percent..."

    Jim Bilello
    President US Marketing, Inc.
    a boutique marketing services agency practicing in the general and Hispanic market

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