Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gen Y Latinos: Bridging the Marketing Generation Gap

Recently, Los Angeles’ NBC Ch-4 News at 5PM aired a segment titled “Generation Gap” where reporter Mekahlo Medina gathered a group of young Los Angeles Latinos (ethnically mixed, 19-22 years) he referred to as “Generation Ñ,” to discuss nationality, identity, and culture, and what Hispanic Heritage Month meant to them. Responses included (paraphrasing here):

 “I don’t understand why there is a specific month honoring Hispanics”
“How do you define heritage, culture or identity?”
“Everyday we should embrace our heritage”
“I’m not Mexican”

I wondered, How or what is the most effective method or strategy to successfully tap into this powerful demographic when there appears to be such a huge disconnect with identity and culture?

According to the latest projections (based on solid data from the American Community Survey, the CDC, Homeland Security and Geoscape’s DataStream 2010 Series):

• 48.4 million Latinos in the U.S. in 2010
• 62 % of Latinos are under the age of 34
• 33% of Latinos will be under the age of 19
• By 2020, minorities are expected to account for 40% of the country
• 138.8 million projected Latinos in the U.S. in 2050

How do advertisers/Fortune 500 (America’s largest corporations), market to this segment of young Latinos, most born in the 1990’s?

In 1999, Latino youth (10-19 years) were recognized as Generation Ñ, a much coveted Hispanic market segment of the decade. Today, young Hispanics of this same age group are recognized as Generation Y (Gen Y), which USA Today recently described as “young, smart and brash.”  Still, the marketing disconnect, in my opinion if based on the six young Latinos featured on the NBC4 News segment, the disconnect comes from a lack of understanding the identity issues confronted by young Latinos of this age group mixed in with their acculturation into the American lifestyle.

Media, entertainment channels, music producers, and manufacturers of apparel, foods, beverages, and even cars target young Latinos, but how effective have they been? Do Spanish-language ads reach Gen Y Latinos? How passé is traditional Hispanic marketing?

All of NBC4
News Latinos interviewed are bilingual and live in Latino segregated communities within Los Angeles area. Advertising Age, the advertising trade, recently acknowledged this demographic shift in an interview with Jackie Hernandez, COO of Telemundo where she calls this shift the “New Now.” According to Hernandez, the most important thing for marketers is that “we can’t look at the past. We need to write the future now.

To shed light on this seemingly marketing disconnect, I turned to Gabriel Reyes, President of Reyes Entertainment and asked him about effective marketing campaign strategies that impact Gen Y Latinos and also their parents.

Elia Esparza: The TV news segment I mention above refers to the panelist of young Latinos as Generation Ñ, but even here there is a disconnect because they’re not Gen Ñ correct?  

Gabriel Reyes: Generation ñ is a term used to represent those of us who grew up with Spanish-only parents and were constantly pulled in the two different directions of our new American-ness and our parent’s Latino-ness.  Always straddling the two worlds of the permissive American culture with the traditional Hispanic culture. We all know that story and countless books have been written about it.

I call the group featured in the NBC4 news story Generation Y (Gen Y), just like their mainstream counterparts because, increasingly, they ARE the mainstream. They are the children of one or more generations of Latinos in America and they feel and are Americans first.

This is the product of the trend prognosticated in 2005 by the brilliant Latino author Guy Garcia in his book “The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer is Transforming American Business.”  His book is a great tool that helps us to understand the demographic shift, which has transformed America from a mostly-white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation into a multi-cultural country where Hispanics are the fastest-growing and most visible “minority” group.  The prognostication of Latinos as the New American Mainstream has come to pass and Gen Y, is the most Hispanic new American generation in history.

Even more important are the current trends in U.S. birth rates.  For all intents and purposes, the traditional white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant two parent, two-child household of yesteryear has vanished.  White Americans are having fewer births, marrying into “minority” families and/or growing older, leaving a population vacuum that is rapidly being filled by minority groups like Asians and Blacks but most notably by Hispanic Americans, the youngest demographic, who are also having the most babies.  Hence, elementary schools and middle schools across America that are not already Latino-dominant, soon will be, making Latinos the majority of Gen Y, the youngest of all Americans and the target of every marketer across the land.

EE: Have young Latinos now fully assimilated? How do you market to them?

GR:  Yes and no.  Yes, they’ve accumulated and respond to mainstream messages but they are also finding a strong identity in their culture and many of them are re-interpreting their Latino culture in a new way. Thus, we see icons of Latin American culture like Frida Kahlo become symbols of cool, hip and trendy urbanites in the U.S.

Also, every new generation becomes less and less concerned with issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference and young Latinos are no different.  One can understand comments like “Why do we need to have a Hispanic Heritage Month?” That’s because young people feel on a visceral level that we are all the same and they grow impatient with labels and distinctions that separate us and make ethnic understanding and cooperation much more difficult.

As for marketing, the marketing trend since the 1990s has been “niche marketing” and more and more market segmentation. This trend is driven by self-conscious, inorganic attitudes of separation and solidified with facile labels like “Latino Pride” “Gay Pride” “Conservative” “Liberal.”

  However, more and more, people are slowly waking up to the limitations of those labels and are instead seeking to establish links with each other based on their American-ness and the commonalities of their human experience vs. their ethnic and/or cultural differences. Therefore, Aspirational marketing is really the key. If your message inspires a mostly urban, mostly multi-ethnic young demographic to unite under their unique “American-ness,” regardless of gender, color of skin, religion, language, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, tribe, etc., then your message will resonate more strongly.  What’s more, Gen Y can smell self-conscious, smarmy messaging a mile away and they don’t buy the same old platitudes of old.

EE: You say “Hispanic marketing today is essentially just plain marketing,” yet some might interpret this as “assimilation peaked for Latinos,” therefore no need to specifically reach out to them, just catch them with the mainstream marketing, a common misconception.

GR:  By our sheer numbers, Hispanics are becoming the largest group, besides aging Anglos, to market to and so every marketing plan must necessarily include multicultural elements with a focus on the largest, youngest and fastest-growing group:  Hispanics.  Some might call this assimilation, but it’s more a 50-50 proposition:  Latinos assimilate as America becomes more Hispanic.

Additionally, U.S. Latinos are a dynamic, ever-changing population and the marketing model must change along with them. There are now many, many more Gen Y kids who are a product of inter-marriages between Latinos and whites as well as Latinos of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.  They, along with the kids of mixed Asian-White and Black-White marriages, are at the forefront of the drive to focus on our commonalities vs. our differences.

EE: Spanish-language TV stations are now embracing English subtitles on their programming especially for their telenovelas. Will it bring in the younger Latino viewership?

GR:  That’s one way of trying to bring in the English-dominant Latino demo but, ultimately, the quality of the telenovela will dictate its ratings.  If I were seriously trying to attract English-dominant viewers, I would start by launching a series of short-form novela web-isodes starring Gen Y characters.

Thank you, Gabriel Reyes, for sharing your expertise and insight. Also, Kudos to NBC4 News Reporter Mekahlo Medina for his outstanding coverage during Hispanic Heritage Month, check out the Latino panel we talked about at:

Generation Y—“despite their differences, they begin to celebrate a month that honors their culture, knowing that diversity is what makes their culture rich.”

Check out the Facebook info here on Gen Y - which is the biggest generation since the Baby Boomers

# # # #

Gabriel Reyes is President and Founder of Reyes Entertainment, the premiere entertainment, marketing agency in Hollywood with expertise in the bilingual Latino markets with offices in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Texas. Reyes is considered one of the pioneers of Hispanic marketing in the Entertainment Industry and was featured in CNN’s “Latinos in America with Soledad O’Brien,” and was named one of “50 Most Powerful Latinos in Hollywood” by The Hollywood Reporter.