Traditionally, communicators and marketers have assumed their messages would reach young Latinos when they targeted all teens or the general Hispanic audience. That’s beginning to change. PR pros and marketers are taking notice of the growing marketplace power of young Latinos, who are estimated to spend dollars 20 billion of their own money each year. They make up 14% of the US teen population, according to Teenage Research Unlimited.
Traditionally, communicators and marketers have assumed their
messages would reach young Latinos when they targeted all teens or the
general Hispanic audience. That’s beginning to change. PR pros and
marketers are taking notice of the growing marketplace power of young
Latinos, who are estimated to spend dollars 20 billion of their own
money each year. They make up 14% of the US teen population, according
to Teenage Research Unlimited.
And this market sector is expected to grow by as much as 62% over the
next 20 years.
But if you think reaching these young people only takes invoking someone
like Ricky Martin or Jennifer Lopez, think again. Latinos are much more
complicated than that - complicated enough that communications experts
are still trying to figure out this market.
Young Latinos may share many similarities with their American peers, but
the bottom line is most of them do not talk the same way or have the
same cultural ties. For young Hispanics who rarely see images of
themselves incorporated in mainstream TV, radio and advertising,
tailoring information specifically for them can increase the impact of
’You can’t do a one-stop, one-size-fits-all approach. How you market to
a young Mexican man in LA will depend on how long he’s been in the
country, his primary language, his likes and dislikes,’ says Armado
Trull, VP of Cohn & Wolfe’s Hispanic outreach division.
For a responsible drinking campaign for the Century Council, Cohn &
Wolfe researched different segments of the youth market - from recent
young immigrants to bilingual first generation groups to fifth
generation youth who might not speak any Spanish. The result was a
campaign using musicians playing salsa, Spanish hip hop, Spanish rock
and other areas that each have their own distinct following. ’You really
need to know exactly what part of the youth community you’re trying to
reach or you’ll waste your money,’ says Trull.
There are some overarching issues, however, that should be addressed
when looking at this group.
’The cultural nuances are the largest problem that people trying to
communicate with the Hispanic community face. You cannot just write in
Spanish and expect it to work, especially with young people,’ says Henry
de La Garza, CEO of de La Garza Public Relations in Houston. Many
experts say that young Latinos prefer to receive information in English
- though that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t sometimes use
Jessica Priego, account supervisor at Ogilvy Public Relations in
Washington, DC, is working on materials for MasterCard that will target
Latino college students. Although written in English, the materials have
been constructed around young Latino experiences. For example, many come
from households where credit cards have not been used, so more
explanation on how credit cards work will be included on brochures. ’We
don’t translate anymore.
We adapt,’ says Priego. ’You need to provide examples that they can
Know the audience well
Eighty percent of young Hispanics use Spanglish (a mixture of English
and Spanish) when speaking with each other. ’You need to create messages
that don’t speak to the community but come from the community.
Communicating using their jargon is the most important thing you can
do,’ says Larry Barrios, account executive at MWW Group in Los
Arbitrary translation of words into Spanish will only project a
’wannabe’ image. Spanglish tends to mix English with a smattering of
Spanish words that have more meaning than their English counterparts.
And, as with any young audience, slang is constantly changing so
research is imperative to keeping your message current.
In Houston, Henry de la Garza found that Latino kids and teens were not
going to local public libraries in large part because of
misinterpretation of the word ’library’ - in Spanish, ’libreria’ means
’bookstore’ and ’biblioteca’ means ’library.’ The result was a campaign
for the Houston Public Libraries using ’biblioteca’ and the slogan
’libros y mas’ (books and more) indicating that other resources like
computers were also available there.
In Latino cultures the ties to family present significant differences
from mainstream teens. Hispanic kids are taught from day one to have
respect for their families, pride in the family name and self-reliance.
’They are not as rebellious as American teens. They recognize that their
parents have sacrificed a lot for them and will often say their parents
are role models,’ says Roxanna Lissa, president of RL Public Relations &
Marketing in Los Angeles.
Because young Latinos live with parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts
who may speak very little English, they are constantly exposed to
Spanish-language media at home. It is quite common for Hispanic families
to watch TV together, especially telenovelas (Latin American soap
operas) and local news programs.
Young Latinos who move between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking
realms are exposed to a vast array of media. ’With young Latinos, you
have double the amount of opportunities to reach them,’ says Deborah
Kazenelson, president of DKLA Communications in LA.
Despite young Latinos’ widespread use of English, some subjects may
carry more resonance when addressed in Spanish, especially delicate
concerns such as religion, relationships and sex. Ogilvy produced an
HIV/AIDS awareness campaign for DC Faces in Spanish to reach young
Latino men. Latino soccer players were used as spokespersons and an
awareness day was created at an October DC United soccer game. ’You need
to push the right cultural buttons and put things in the right cultural
context to get your message across,’ says Ogilvy’s Priego. The event was
followed up with posters saying ’protege tu futuro’ (protect your
When speaking to young Latinos in Spanish, a general and straightforward
language should be used, without the regional variations found
throughout Latin America. But remember that many third- and
fourth-generation Latinos don’t even speak Spanish, so study your target
before you choose a media outlet.
All of this is not to say that you won’t reach these youths by targeting
mainstream teens. Young Hispanics tend to bear more similarities to
their American peers than they do to older generations of Latinos.
’Something I have to hammer into my clients time and time again is that
Hispanic teens are an entirely different market from their parents. They
are better educated than their parents, they prefer to communicate in
English and to consume English media,’ says Juan Faura, director of
global research at Cheskin Research.
The message, not the messenger
For example, in focus groups the ’Got Milk?’ commercials scored high
with young Latinos even though they were in English with no Hispanic
characters, while other commercials featuring Latino stars scored low if
their messages were unclear or deemed uncool.
If Latino teens respond so well to general teen messages, why should you
invest in PR targeted specifically at them? RL PR’s Lissa argues that,
while general messages may be well received by Latino teens, they also
may carry less resonance than messages that specifically target this
In addition, teens tend to focus on being part of American culture, but
once in college a new phenomenon takes place, which some have dubbed
’reverse acculturation.’ Young Hispanics become more interested in their
ethnic background and in speaking Spanish. They also take more notice
when messages do not include them.
Obviously, determining when to use Spanish and when to use English
presents some difficulty, as does knowing when to tap into American
cultural icons and when to appeal to Latino sensibilities. Possibly the
only thing that’s clear, at this point, experts say, is that there can
be no one way of targeting this group.
Cohn & Wolfe’s Trull and others hope to see the level of market research
on Latinos reach the same level of sophistication it has with the
African-American market. But given the rapid morphing that goes on in
youth culture, getting out there and seeing what young Latinos are doing
is the only way to ensure your message has the right appeal.
LATINO MEDIA OUTLETS: A SELECTION
Latina magazine: a women’s magazine for Latinas. Stories cover career,
celebrities, beauty, health, food and travel with a Latino edge and is
written in both English and Spanish. Latina Girl provides similar
coverage for Latinas in their early teens.
Local Spanish-language newscasts: Spanish-language networks Telemundo
and Univision produce local news programs often watched by the entire
Sabado Gigante: four-hour Saturday morning game show, talent show and
talk show. The variety show, hosted by Don Francisco, is regularly
watched by entire families and boasts 100 million viewers.
Despierta America: national morning show on the Univision network
showcases news, human interest stories and lifestyle pieces.
New York: La Mega WSKO 97.9 FM plays the hottest salsa, Spanish rock and
top-of-the-charts Spanish-language music. Its morning drive program
features celebrities, advice and promotionals, often geared toward a
young male audience.
Miami: El Zol 95.7 FM reaches young Latinos with both morning and
evening drive programs as well as hip promotions and contests.
Quepasa.com: one of the most popular Internet portals among Latinos, the
site offers articles and information in both Spanish and English.
Topics covered include everything from finance to sports.
Starmedia.com: the US section of this Spanish-language portal features
articles on news, sports, music and entertainment - with both US- and