The hip-hop generation

Hispanic-specific marketing has many synergies with broader, urban-youth-focused efforts.

Hispanic-specific marketing has many synergies with broader, urban-youth-focused efforts.

At 3:14 in the afternoon, a dismissal bell jolts the quiet residential neighborhood surrounding John Marshall High School in the east Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, a precursor of the chaos that is about to erupt. Chattering kids stream from doorways, wandering to waiting cars and buses. Music thumps out of auto speakers, a babble of languages underscored with a hip-hop beat. In some ways, the teenagers blend together with hooded sweatshirts and untied tennis shoes, short-sleeve shirts pulled over long-sleeve T's, and piercings decorating boys and girls alike. In other ways, they are a reflection of the varied inner-city area that houses this school. John Marshall is bordered to the north by multimillion-dollar hillside homes occupied mostly by Caucasians. In the flats to the east, Hispanic families fill postwar bungalows crouched along narrow streets lined with trees. Then Los Feliz sprawls farther out, reaching toward Thai Town, Chinatown, and the Armenian enclave of Glendale. All that diversity is found in the sea of teenagers now flowing from the brick building. Skin tones from cream to ebony wind through the crowd, a visual echo of a larger community of youth that goes beyond race. John Marshall, and even Los Angeles, is not an anomaly. Cities across the US are increasingly diverse, with kids often the most likely to mingle among different cultures at school, work, and in their social lives. "It's a new America," says Jameel Spencer, chief marketing officer of Bad Boy Entertainment and president of Blue Flame Marketing, both companies owned by Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. "It's hard to decipher what a person's ethnicity even is." The Hispanic youth The reality of a new face on the average American adolescent is posing a challenge for marketers looking to reach specific segments, especially within the Hispanic community. For years, Hispanic-market PR professionals have lobbied, educated, and pleaded with clients to heed the coming shift in population and put more money into reaching a demographic that promised a huge payoff. It took the 2000 census, with its official stamp that Hispanic consumers were here and buying in a big way, to really get attention. Now most forward-thinking corporations are convinced that Latino consumers are worth their efforts, but the culturally specific approach that has been touted for years is not the only solution, say an increasing number of urban marketers. The crossover ethos embraced by younger Americans, regardless of ethnic background, seems to beg for a multicultural or "urban" approach to marketing - taking the practice beyond the reach of the hundreds of independent agencies and specialty divisions that have been built over the past decade under the premise that Hispanic campaigns are needed to reach all Hispanic consumers. After all, it's attractive for a corporation to hear that their dollars can reach a spectrum of youth for the same price as a campaign targeting only Latinos. So does a new America mean a new paradigm for ethnic PR? Or do Hispanic kids still require Hispanic campaigns? Shawn Prez, CEO of guerrilla marketing and promotions company PowerMoves, which counts EA Sports and New Line Cinema among its clients, says they don't. "My target demographic overall is the inner-city youth. I find it kind of difficult to accept that the Latin companies are saying they are the only ones that can reach those youth. Hip-hop has united this generation. I'm not just talking about black kids or Hispanic kids. I'm talking about white urban kids [as well] - youth, period. Through the culture of hip-hop, I definitely think you can approach them." When Prez talks about the culture of hip-hop, he's talking about more than music. It's the lifestyle glamorized by pop stars from 50 Cent to Missy Elliot, Eminem to Outkast. It's text messaging, Spanglish, and MP3s - anything that's cool and relevant to kids. And it's a sensibility that Spencer agrees is the best way to reach young consumers. "It's really more about a mind-set, a readiness and willingness to accept what is next," he says of his company's approach to reaching the youth market - Hispanics included - for their brands such as the Sean John line of clothing. "Younger kids, they are not as deeply rooted in the culture as older people would be. A young Hispanic kid probably watches MTV as much as a young black kid or a young white kid." In fact, a recent survey by TNS Market Development found that Hispanic kids watch the same amount of English-language TV as their general market counterparts - about 15 hours per week - highlighting the fact that teenagers of all ethnicities are choosing exposure to a common, urban outlook. Prez uses the example of singer and actor Beyoncé Knowles, whose recent film, The Fighting Temptations, PowerMoves helped to promote through street teams at theaters. "In a perfect world, we would like to think only black people are going to support black stars, but it doesn't work like that," he says. "Twenty million black people didn't buy [Knowles' latest album]. She definitely crosses borders into the Latino market. She probably has as many Latino fans as black fans, and if you want to be real with it, she probably has more white fans than both." But despite some obvious successes at reaching kids through an urban approach, Hispanic marketers contend there is a cultural element involved in reaching Latino kids that can't be ignored if companies want to build long-term loyalty, and can't be done without Hispanic-specific efforts. While more and more Hispanic kids may be listening to Beyoncé with their friends, there is a very different picture at home, where cultural identity may take on a greater role. The "family factor" "We realize that [Hispanic kids] have this dual identity," says Rosanna Fiske, managing partner of The Communiqué Group and diversity chair of the PRSA. "That mainly has to do with the family factor. The Hispanic family is such a huge figure in the lives of Hispanic youth. When you get home, you are definitely a Hispanic and nothing else." Fiske uses her 19-year-old sister as an example. "She watches Rich Girls, Newlyweds on MTV, and yet she also turns the channel and watches Telemundo. To reach her, you have to be able to wear both hats. She's not going to go for a product that is only advertised during Rich Girls. It is only going to be cemented in her mind if it is something that her family can agree on, that they all can buy into. Hispanics, especially the youth, need constant approval from the family. Even if you want the latest cell phone that is advertised during Friends, you're going to go your mom and dad and say, 'What do you think?'" Fiske's sister is not alone in her bicultural habits. Along with their 15 hours of mainstream TV, most Hispanic kids also watch an additional seven hours of Spanish-language television, according to the TNS study, pointing to a strong degree of immersion with a traditional Latino identity. Experts say that understanding why Latino kids still consume Latino media is key to understanding the demographic. Spanish families tend to do more activities together, such as shopping, cooking, or watching TV, increasing the influence of parents and family members on the habits of Latino kids. And since older Hispanics often prefer bilingual or Spanish-language campaigns with a cultural relevance, reaching out to kids through those channels has the important component of reaching the entire family. "It's just a Hispanic reality," Fiske says. "The tie-in to the family is constant." But so is the reality that Hispanic kids get older. And as these second, third, and even later generations of US-born Hispanics mature and have kids of their own, the trend toward a more mainstream outlook will probably increase. For Hispanic market practitioners, that means their methods have to evolve, embracing crossover approaches that continue to tread the fine line of resonating with the cultural identity that remains intact, while also appealing to Americanized sensibilities. "I am coming to believe that younger generations of Latinos in the US may not be as influenced by Hispanic media, particularly Spanish-language media, as veteran media organizations or pros would like to believe," says Raul Garza, director of Hill & Knowlton's diversity communications group. Adds Deborah Kazenelson Deane, VP of Magnet Communications' Hispanic practice, "One of the first things we strive to tell people is that the language is not as important as relevance." In fact, many companies are already finding innovative ways to address the changing nature of the market. Procter & Gamble aired a Spanish-language ad for Crest toothpaste during the 2002 Grammy Awards on CBS, marking one of the first times a major corporation addressed the Hispanic audience in Spanish outside of ethnic outlets. GM did outreach to its dealerships last year to highlight the fact that Hispanic consumers often shop as families, and therefore have different needs from the sales experience. And Univision recently aired its first "telenovela" shot entirely in the US, centering on a Hispanic American woman living in Los Angeles. Those are all signs of the sophisticated understanding that is increasingly necessary to reach young Hispanic consumers. But as the number of Hispanics increases, so do the complexity of the demographic and the nuances of the culture. Hispanics present scary territory for many corporations: a consumer that cannot be ignored but is often not well understood by those spending the marketing dollars - making a more inclusive "urban" approach an attractive, less threatening option. And that means Hispanic PR experts need to continue to hone their most important skill: explaining why they are necessary.

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