Reaching Latinos: Breaking Down the Market Myths

Oct 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Keith Rosenblum

Special to TelevisionWeek

On the west side of Tucson, Ariz., Rodolfo Chabolla, who has spent most of his life in either his birthplace, Los Angeles, or his family’s village in Jalisco, Mexico, switches from the movie in English he’s been watching with his Anglo wife, Donna, to a Spanish-language newscast on a cable channel.

A few miles north of them, Mr. Chabolla’s daughter Elena, bilingual and an Arizona native, who doesn’t have cable or satellite TV, watches English-language fare-until her husband, Tom, an Anglo who wants to improve his Spanish, tunes in Univision telenovelas “La Mujer en el Espejo” and “Gitanos.”

The next morning their daughter, 7-year-old Brenna, hunts for programming in Spanish and settles on the bilingual cartoon show “Dora the Explorer.”

The viewing patterns of a single multigenerational family in the Southwest illustrate the landscape facing TV networks, producers and marketers trying to connect with Hispanic America in 2005.

The most obvious question advertisers must ponder when trying to persuade the Chabollas to buy a car, for example, is in which language to deliver the pitch? And is the language used to pitch a Dodge truck the best one to sell them a pizza or a vacation to Mexico?

For years it was a given that to reach the Hispanic consumer it was essential to speak Spanish. That is no longer true. Myths and misconceptions abound regarding the relationship between Hispanic America and television.

Perception: If you want to get a message across to the Latino population of the U.S., better to do it in Spanish.

Reality: That is not the case, said Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for the Study of Hispanic Marketing at Florida State University and founder of Hispanic & Asian Marketing Communication Research.

For starters, about one-fifth of the assimilated Hispanic population of the United States speaks only English and so is unreachable in Spanish. On top of that, several studies suggest that U.S. Hispanics watch roughly half of their television in English. The most recent U.S. Census figures show that 70 percent of those who say they speak Spanish at home also understand English “well” or “very well.”

“Add those to the 20 percent that speak only English, and an advertiser can reach 75 percent of all Hispanics in English,” Mr. Korzenny said.

Some advertisers say that the best strategy is to sprinkle ad dollars in both languages and try to adjust the message to each market.

For example, said Joe Zubizarreta, chief operating officer of Zubi Advertising Services in Miami, Ford Motor Co. pitches its F-150 pickup trucks in English-language television ads as a “rock-hard work truck.” In the Spanish-language ads, the truck become a family vehicle that takes kids around town, allows Mom to shop and, by the way, allows Dad to do some hauling. “It goes beyond reaching the consumer,” Mr. Zubizarreta said. “The key is being relevant to him.”

MTV veejay La La Vasquez, who has found crossover success hosting hip-hop segments on the network, agrees that understanding Latino sensibilities is essential for successful marketing.

“With advertising, it is really about understanding the culture more than the language. Just translating an ad campaign is not enough,” Ms. Vasquez said. “If you are pushing a product toward the Latino community, it is key that the brand must somehow be related to the culture and the Latino consumer will be able to connect.”

Perception: U.S. Spanish-language networks should have a strong presence for the foreseeable future.

Reality:That’s true only as long as emigration from Latin America continues, which in turn depends on a higher Latin American birthrate. With family size shrinking in Latin America to numbers comparable to those in the United States, emigration will naturally decline, many demographers believe. Tighter controls on legal and illegal immigration could also affect the “captive” audience of U.S. Spanish-language broadcasters.

“Immigrants are the ones refueling the Spanish language and maintaining its vibrancy in the U.S.,” Mr. Korzenny said.

Louis DeSipio, an associate professor of Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of a study on Hispanic TV viewing habits, said that the “1.5 generation”-those in transition to life in the U.S.-are the ones setting the agenda for Latino viewers. “They are selecting the best in English and Spanish for their particular needs,” he said.

Another factor that might slow the growth of Spanish-language television is societal pressure. If the early- and mid-20th century intolerance of multilingualism returns, ethnic media may find their roles diminished, Mr. Korzenny said. “There was a time when foreigners, including Latinos, faced pressure not to speak publicly in their native language,” he said.

Perception: The Mexican immigrant community, which accounts for about two-thirds of all immigrants, has homogenous viewing tastes.

Reality: These new viewers aren’t just watching telenovelas; they have the same disparate interests as other viewers, said Luis Torres, president of Atlanta-based Castalia Communications, an independent cable and satellite distributor. They may not have the language skills yet to appreciate “Jeopardy!’s” “Potent Potables for $200” or understand why that guy with all the hair just pointed his finger and fired someone. But as their assimilation continues and their knowledge of American pop culture grows, so does the typical immigrant’s appetite for mainstream fare, he said.

Newcomers to the United States share an interest in knowing what’s going on in their former hometowns and states, and a new niche-regional, independent Mexican television available in the United States-has come into being in response to that desire.

Mexicanal, a 24-hour news and entertainment station, debuted six weeks ago as part of a package available through DirecTV for $29.95 per month. The service, which is currently available to 850,000 viewers, offers viewers eight regional Mexican stations from the states of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Guanajuato, Jalisco and Yucatan.

Mr. Torres said each of the Mexican states is unique. His company put together the regional station package in a venture with Mexico’s Cablecom. That the varied offerings are popular is no surprise to him.

“A businessman from Mexico state has nothing in common with a farmer from Yucatan, except that they are both Mexican,” Mr. Torres said. “How can you possibly offer them the same programming?”