A couple of days ago, I was reading a very interesting op-ed article in The New York Times by Dowell Myers: “The Next Immigration Challenge.” His piece is a great recap of the evolution of Hispanics in American society and addresses how immigration policies need to shift from keeping newcomers out to encouraging migrants to integrate into the social fabric of American society. In a very peculiar way, the University of Southern California professor says “Show me your papers” should be replaced with “Welcome to English class.”
Myers, also author of “Immigrants and Boomers,” has a very optimistic view, presenting the education and integration of (Latino) immigrants as in the best interest of aging baby boomers. As Hispanics continue to grow in the ranks of work, tax payment, and homeownership, older generations will benefit from the role Latinos play in the economy.
To Be or Not to Be, That Is the Question
Traditionally, acculturation was seen as a linear and hierarchical process. Latinos who came to the United States were supposed to gradually adopt the American way of life – especially considering the external pressure to follow the mainstream and blend in, as well as Latino growth being driven by U.S. born versus foreign born. It was simply a matter of time.
In reality, the impact of a new (host) culture on a primary culture is a complex, dynamic process. And Latinos – who accounted for more than half of the population growth in the past decade – are a great example of this.
As Hispanic growth spreads out more rapidly across the country, there’s no longer a need (or pressure) to acculturate.
Take a look at language, for example. Although bilingualism – as well as English dominance – continues to grow among Latinos, Spanish still plays an important role at home. A total of 77.2 percent of Hispanics said they speak Spanish at home in 2010 versus 78.9 percent in 1990 (Source: Geoscape, 2010). That small decline is pretty telling.
Culture plays an important role: 66 percent of Latinos agree that is important to respect their customs and beliefs. And this is trending up. Nine in 10 Latinos agree that their roots and heritage are more important today than five years ago, according to Experian Simmons.
The Importance of Being Authentic
Rather than follow, Latinos today want to influence American culture. It’s that creativity that is a very important part of Latinos’ DNA. Seven in 10 Latinos consider themselves a creative person and say that they like to put things together in new ways. Of course, anyone is familiar with the likes of George Lopez, Sofia Vergara, Salma Hayek, or Selena Gomez to name a few. But you might also want to check the following: Mr.Cartoon (urban street artist), Pepe Aguilar (shoes), and Paul Rodriguez Jr. (skateboarder).
One great example of this creative spirit is Richard Montañez. Originally a janitor at Pepsico, he is now a senior sales and marketing executive at the same firm thanks to being the creator of Cheetos Flamin’ Hot.
Latinos, especially younger generations, are all about authenticity. They live through the tension of trying to preserve their values and traditions of their roots but at the same time trying to realize their aspirations of creating something new and better. This creates a new reality for younger Latinos: they see the world with a different set of eyes.
The Role of Latinos in Advertising
Latinos want to adopt American culture. But, for them, culture is something dynamic. American culture isn’t what it used to be, but an evolution of it in which Latinos want to play an influential role. Surprisingly, when it comes to advertising, brands are not necessarily aligned with this expectation.
According to Ethnodynamics, a recent study by Yahoo, Mindshare, and Added Value, 60 percent of Latinos believe advertising does not depict their ethnic values at a deep level. The same research also demonstrates the paradox where Hispanics want to be portrayed as both mainstream and unique when it comes to advertising.
This is one of the biggest marketing challenges when it comes to Latinos. Traditional Hispanic agencies previously focused on the need of doing specific (sometimes isolated) marketing efforts. Some clients focused solely on half of the equation: if Latinos want to be part of the mainstream, why should I do specific Hispanic communication efforts?
As I mentioned in my inaugural contribution to this column, marketing to Latinos requires an inclusive approach. Marketers must understand and leverage this tension between wanting to be talked to but not being considered as part of a silo.
Latinos want to be reflected in advertising. But value when they are shown surrounded not only by Latinos.
Latinos appreciate being targeted by brands and see that companies are fighting for their dollars. But you need to be authentic too. It’s critical to gain “community approval,” either for their real community or the social ones.
Hispanics value when marketing becomes more real. They value that their problems are represented in a realistic, yet positive manner. Stereotypes don’t help. Trying to show that they are living the American dream doesn’t either. Most of the time, it adds more of a burden on their shoulders.
Latinos must be represented as creators and innovators rather than simply doers. For them, there’s a great future ahead, though the path might seem hard sometimes. For marketing to Latinos, there’s also a great future ahead. And believe me, the challenge is not impossible. Think of the Argentinean Lalo Schifrin, the Latino composer of many Hollywood movies. For him, although the score creator, there is no Mission Impossible.