In 20 years of working in the U.S. Hispanic market, I’ve had a front-row seat, watching as marketers have taken notice and, subsequently, put their money where the opportunity is. But since marketers tend to have short attention spans, I’m afraid that some Hispanic consumers are getting lost in the Madison Avenue shuffle.
During the 1990s and 2000s, there was a baby boom among U.S. Hispanics, many of whom had come to this country during the 1980s and 1990s. Combined with the decreasing fertility rates among non-Hispanics, it became obvious that the future of America is increasingly Hispanic.
Not surprisingly, marketers are locked in on these young bicultural children of immigrants. It’s literally where the Hispanic market is exploding. And while I think it’s important to take note of the demographic changes and target these younger, more acculturated Latinos, I strongly believe that in 2016 there’s still a huge opportunity with less acculturated, immigrant generation Hispanics.
About a year ago, I was asked to react to a study by GfK that leaves one with the impression that the less acculturated segment is vanishing quickly, decreasing from 37% in 2009 to 25% in 2014. But in reality, the study only showed the proportion of acculturated Hispanics to less acculturated Hispanics.
Because the aforementioned Hispanic baby boom was so large, U.S.-born Latinos are dwarfing the foreign-born population in a relative sense but the absolute number of less acculturated Hispanics is not decreasing. On the contrary, it’s increasing.
According to Experian/Simmons, the number of Hispanic adults who were born in the U.S. increased dramatically from 10 million to 17.3 million between 2006 and 2015, while those born outside of the U.S. also increased, from 17.3 to 19.9 million. And the U.S. Census Bureau is projecting that, by 2060, foreign-born Hispanics will number 32.6 million.
Similarly, also according to Experian/Simmons, the number of Hispanics who prefer to speak only or mostly English increased from 11.7 million in 2006 to 19.2 million in 2015. But the number of Hispanics who prefer to speak only or mostly Spanish also increased, albeit at a much lower rate from 14.4 million to 15.8 million during the same time frame.
So, what we have are two very distinct sub-segments of the Hispanic market. One is growing very rapidly, as U.S.-born Hispanics are entering adulthood every day, and the other is also growing in terms of absolute size, just not as fast. Acculturation is neither a fast nor linear process, as the data shows.
In the old days, Hispanic marketing meant Spanish language. Nowadays, Hispanic marketing is in danger of become strictly about biculturalism. The point is not to dismiss one segment or the other but rather to put them both into clearer focus and develop strategies that deliver them. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to have a single Hispanic strategy for both.
The idea behind segment marketing is that people, in certain contexts, will respond more favorably when being spoken to as members of a specific segment they belong to rather than as members of the general public. For example, a resort destination may find that avid golfers respond more positively to tailored messages that appeal to them asgolfers. This example seems obvious but it’s the same for any segment you look at such as LGBT, lifestyle segments such as the aforementioned golfers, and yes, ethnic marketing.
I’ve always felt that if a “great idea” is one that people understand, relate to and respond to, then a “great idea” created for a general audience will work better than a lousy idea for that specific segment.
Of course, it gets complicated when you start targeting more acculturated Latinos who share traits with both their unacculturated Latino counterparts and their non-Latino counterparts. How do you know when to speak to them as Latinos and when to speak to them simply as members of a more general audience? That is a question more and more marketers are being forced to ask themselves.
On the other hand, the old Hispanic market isn’t shrouded in as much nuance. Plus, having a strategy to communicate with them can yield unexpected benefits on the bicultural strategy. For five years, I worked on a leading brand and leading Hispanic advertiser. The work my agency created for this client was always created for Spanish language media but often was adapted to English, as the client set aside a significant percentage of their buy to target Latinos in English language media. The result was usually positive, and often award-winning. A great idea created for the “old Hispanic market” can, on many occasions, be a great idea that works with the “new Hispanic market.”