Hispanic Youth: A Bilingual Quandary

Sep 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

For advertising executive Oswald Mendez, the search for Hispanic young adults and teens has been getting harder.

These days, clients of The Vidal Partnership, the New York-based multicultural ad agency where Mr. Mendez works, want to target Hispanic young adults not only through Spanish-language media but also via young-skewing, English-language networks such as Fox, MTV and The WB.

“We are struggling with it right now,” said Mr. Mendez, VP and director of integrated communications for Vidal.

The struggle is a complex one. Marketers are trying to identify and target both English-language-dominant and Spanish-language-dominant Hispanic youth with data that is hard to access. If those viewers can be identified and categorized, the information will help marketers craft their message-or messages. A commercial on MTV may or may not end up being the same as one running on Univision. It may play in English, Spanish or both languages, depending on the data acquired.

Figures from Initiative Media, a top-five New York-based media agency, point up the difficulty of this endeavor. Out of the 100 top-rated Hispanic youth shows, 38 were from English-language broadcasters. While Spanish-language programming dominates the list, many Fox, The WB and ABC shows also placed high in the standings.

Nielsen Media Research dating from October 2003 to June 2004 shows that Fox’s “The Simple Life,” with a 7.3 rating among young Hispanics, was tied for third-highest-rated show in that category. “The Simpsons” had a 6.9 rating, tied for fifth-highest. UPN’s “WWE SmackDown!” tied for 9th place, with a 6.3 rating.

But most of the top-rated shows among Hispanic viewers 12 to 24 are still Spanish-language telenovelas-prime-time soaps, such as Univision’s “Mariana de la Noche” and “Nina Amada Mia,” that run every weekday night.

“Whenever you’re looking at the top 20 programs [among Hispanics], there is a huge mix of Spanish-language programs [and English-language programs],” said Rosa Serrano, senior VP and group account director of multicultural media for Initiative Media. “It’s not 100 percent either way. Over 40 percent of Hispanic viewing is going to be English-language market at any time.”

Adding to the difficulty of addressing such a disparate audience for media agencies is the slow growth of Hispanic media budgets. Right now, Hispanic teens make up 20 percent of the U.S. teen market, with Hispanics in general representing more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, Ms. Serrano said. Some marketers are asking agencies to raise the media exposure for Hispanic young adults without increasing the traditionally small Hispanic media budgets.

Only recently have some marketers begun to come around, Ms. Serrano said. “Marketers are willing to spend appropriately to reach the target. In the past [the budgets] would be what is left over,” she said.

Complicating matters is the difficulty in obtaining universally accepted Hispanic ratings numbers. For instance, in New York, where Nielsen Media Research is testing Local People Meters, young adults’ and teens’ Hispanic ratings have dropped by half from when they were measured with handwritten diaries, Mr. Mendez said.

Traditionally, he said, most marketers don’t give much weight to young-adult ratings in the first place. As with other groups of young adults, Hispanic teens and young adults are tough to pin down, media agency executives said. They easily move from an MTV show to a telenovela to video games and more without being carefully tracked.

But Jeff Valdez, CEO, chairman and founder of S%ED;TV, a new Hispanic-themed, English-language cable network, said his channel can solve some of the challenges in finding young adults.

“It’s not about language; it’s about culture,” he said, summing up S%ED;TV’s marketing plan.

Targeting the 18 to 34 demo hasn’t been a primary focus of the bigger Hispanic networks, Univision and Telemundo. For years, U.S.-based marketers believed the young-skewing, English-language networks were adequately serving Hispanic youth.

Mr. Valdez said such narrow thinking was bad for both viewers and marketers. “Traditionally, there have been no shows that targeted young [Hispanic] adults,” he said. Since English-language programming was all that was offered to young Hispanics, that’s what they watched.

Prevailing wisdom was that young Hispanic adults were interested in watching more English-language TV to help them adapt to mainstream American culture. Now media analysts observe a swing back.

“Yes, there is some crossover, “said David Joyce, senior equity analyst for cable and media for J.B. Hanauer & Co., a Miami-based stock brokerage that covers Univision. “But there is also a rise in pride among young adults to use the Spanish language.”

Last year most major English-language broadcast networks worried that young men 18 to 34 and 18 to 24 had stopped watching network television. Fingers pointed to video games, computers, theatrical movies, even to the war in Iraq for taking young soldiers out of the U.S. TV audience as possible explanations.

Nielsen Media Research hopes to ease marketers’ concerns by next year. Currently, Nielsen separates Hispanic viewing data from English-language viewing in two reports. Some media agencies roughly merge all data themselves to get a full, if somewhat inaccurate, picture.

Next year Nielsen will put all data together in one book, which could help marketers significantly.

“We’ll be able to access a greater sample,” said Initiative’s Ms. Serrano. “Right now when you look at [Hispanic] teens or 18 to 34, the data can be unstable,” she said. “Overall, you are looking at 800 [People] Meters nationally [in the Hispanic sample] as opposed to a 5,000 sample in the general market.

“The integration of both sets of data will be an eye-opener. It will give us much better data in the future,” she said.