Marketers reach across cultures to target diverse Hispanic audience

As a growing number of Hispanic-Americans get their news in English, communications professionals say they are attempting to straddle both cultures in their media outreach to this influential group.

As a growing number of Hispanic-Americans get their news in English, communications professionals say they are attempting to straddle both cultures in their media outreach to this growing and increasingly influential group.

A study released last week by the Pew Research Hispanic Center found that 82% of Hispanic adults in the US say they get at least some of their news in English, up from 78% in 2006. One-third of those surveyed say they consume news exclusively in English, up from 22% who did so seven years earlier. Meanwhile, the share of Latino adults who get at least some news in Spanish declined to 68% last year from 78% in 2006, and 18% of respondents consume news exclusively in Spanish, down from 22% in the prior survey.

PR executives say they are adapting their media-relations strategies targeting Hispanics to adjust to this trend, which Pew attributes to factors such as slowing immigration and a rise in the number of US-born Hispanics. However, they caution brands should avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach to US Hispanic communications because of how varied the population has become.

“Perhaps 20 years ago, it was easy to translate a press release and blast that out to the US Hispanic market. Today, there is no such thing as one US Hispanic market, just like you can't say there is one US consumer. There is so much complexity and richness,” says JeffreyGroup president Mike Valdés-Fauli.

Representing alcohol company Diageo, JeffreyGroup tailored messages for its liquor brands to different segments of the Hispanic population, Valdés-Fauli explains. For tequila brand Jose Cuervo, which Diageo has since stopped distributing, the agency communicated for many years exclusively in Spanish with predominantly Mexican-American consumers on the West Coast, while for scotch brand Johnnie Walker, it communicated bilingually to primarily Caribbean-Americans on the East Coast.

Latinos between the ages of 18 and 29 are more likely than those ages 65 and older to consume news exclusively in English, according to the Pew study. However, young Latinos growing up in the US today tend to receive different messages from their parents about the role of their cultural identity than the prior generation, says Mark Lopez, director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

“They're getting messages from their parents that emphasize the pride of wherever their families are from and the importance of speaking and maintaining Spanish,” he explains. “If you look at older Latinos, they got messages more about being American and speaking English.”

This means that brands must embrace both languages and cultures in their Hispanic communications, PR professionals say.

“Even though Hispanics are consuming more media in English, it doesn't mean they're not consuming in Spanish. There's a demand for both,” says Sonia Sroka, EVP and group head of multicultural marketing at Edelman. “People want to feel part of the community in which they're living, but that doesn't mean they want to lose ties to their native country. It's a need to live in two worlds.”

Kimberly-Clark, for example, launched two versions of an online gaming platform when targeting Hispanic Millennials – one in English and a complementary one in Spanish – and pitched outlets in both languages.

“Hispanic consumers who prefer English are equally Latino or more as they are American,” says Lizette Williams, multicultural brand strategy and task force lead at Kimberly-Clark. “When we think about a national strategy, we work to create a single voice that can live across markets.” 

Hispanic PR leaders including Alvaro Cabal, multicultural communications manager at Ford Motor Company, say it is crucial for companies to focus on making messages culturally relevant rather than deciding whether to use Spanish or English.

“Language is just a tool to tell the story. It's more about the content, the angle, and understanding what is important to the community,” Cabal says. “I could be speaking to a [non-Hispanic] in English about Latino artists, and it wouldn't be appealing because you don't know those artists.”

With its campaign for the Ford Fiesta, the automaker has enlisted Latino influencers to “tell those stories through Hispanic lenses,” Cabal says.

“They are doing it in English, Spanish, a little bit of everything,” he adds. “People go after media that speaks to them. It's not just the language; it's the subject.”

Cabal and others first identify which segment of the Hispanic market they want to contact before selecting the language and outlet for their pitch.

Based on research, TD Bank learned that Latino small-business owners accessed mostly Spanish-language media, while for messages about checking accounts the bank found it is appropriate to send a press release in both English and Spanish, says VP of corporate communications Rebecca Acevedo.

TV remains the most popular news platform among US Latinos, but the Internet is on the rise, the Pew study found. Hispanic communications specialists say Latinos are adopting digital media at a faster rate than the general market.

“We focus mainly on TV, but US Hispanics over-index on social media and tend to increasingly rely on social platforms,” says Victoria Capelli, VP and head of the New York office at RL Public Relations.

With US Hispanic demographics evolving, more media companies are launching English-language outlets specifically targeting Latinos. Those include news site Fox News Latino as well as cable network Fusion, a joint venture in development between Univision and ABC News.

The number of Hispanics in the US grew to 52 million in 2011, up from 35 million in 2000, according to Pew. Lopez says about 800,000 Latinos who were born in the US, many of whom are likely to be bilingual, enter adulthood each year – a trend that is expected to continue for the next 20 years.

“We ask the media – Telemundo, Univision, and others – how they communicate with their audience,” says Acevedo. “We continue to do the research and talk about it all the time – there's not one silver bullet yet.”

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