Qualitative Research
Categories and Industries
What Clients have Said
About us
En Español

Hispanic cool Article ID: 20010403 Published: April 2001 Author: Horacio Segal  

Editor’s note: Horacio Segal is president of Planet Latino Market Intelligence, Inc., a Miami qualitative research firm.

For many decades, Hispanics in the U.S. have felt rejected by the mainstream because of the way they look, live and the language they speak. For many Hispanics it has always been mandatory to assimilate into the culture as soon as possible, and their children have retained very little of their cultural background. But now, based on what respondents tell me in focus groups across the country, Hispanics are starting to feel that they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are and where they came from, and they are seeing that many Hispanic customs, like food and music, are becoming cool for the general market.

Acculturation vs. assimilation

For those of us who conduct research in the U.S. Hispanic market this is not news. We have observed that Hispanics are not assimilating in the same manner as previous immigrant groups that came to the U.S. Assimilation — replacing one’s culture with a new culture — is happening less and less, while acculturation — the learning of a new culture while still retaining your own — is what is happening to most Hispanics. Access to media has been a key factor to fuel acculturation. Decades ago it was difficult to read the news from one’s country of origin and Spanish-language radio and television were just starting. On television, Univision and Telemundo used to be the two main channels. But cable TV has brought a myriad of Spanish-language channels that originate in both Latin American and the U.S. In many areas, Hispanics can now watch newscasts live from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile to be up to date with what is happening in their country of origin. The Discovery Channel, as well as Disney, CNN, MTV and VH1 have 24-hour Spanish-language channels available in many areas of the country, and HBO recently debuted its new offering, HBO Latino. The Internet has also brought about a revolution in media access by making it possible for Hispanics in the U.S. to read newspapers and magazines from their country of origin everyday. Spanish-language radio, one of the key media for Hispanics, now has a national network that broadcasts from coast to coast, Radio Unica. Spanish-language radio beats its English-language counterparts in both Miami and Los Angeles in ratings, as well as in many other areas of the country. There are many successful magazines and newspapers published in the U.S. in Spanish, including La Opinion in Los Angeles, El Nuevo Herald in Miami and People en Español.

Hispanic teens are influencing the mainstream market

In recent years, I have conducted a lot of research with bicultural teens and they have told me about the influence they have on their mainstream counterparts, which I have been able to verify by talking to general market teens. Dominican teens in New York speak about their African-American friends who use Spanish words in their everyday conversations and who feel as comfortable dancing merengue as they do hip-hop when they have a party. Cuban teens in Miami teach their non-Hispanic friends to dance salsa, so they can dance together in a party where songs in English and Spanish follow each other seamlessly. Mexican teens are as comfortable listening to hip-hop and alternative music as when they switch to rock en Español, rancheras, norteña and cumbias. The resurgence of break dancing is led by Hispanic youth, and many Anglo kids throughout the U.S. learn new moves from Hispanic teens, whom they also imitate in the way they speak and the clothes they wear. American teens are now much more comfortable than their parents with people from different ethnic backgrounds. These teens state that they are interested in diverse cultural influences, spirituality and family ties, things that Hispanic teens already embrace. American teens admire the involvement of Hispanic parents in their teen’s everyday life, the strong connections to relatives and the emphasis on religion. Hispanic teens value the sacrifices their parents have made to come to the U.S. and make it possible for them to have a better future. They tell me that because their parents work very hard every day, they now have the opportunity to complete high school and get a college degree, something they say it would have been hard to accomplish if they had stayed in Mexico or Central America, where often young children have to work to contribute to the financial support of the family. Hispanic teens often do not feel they are a minority anymore. The percentage growth of Hispanic youth is very fast, and in many areas of the country, they are the largest group. It is expected that by 2005 Hispanic youth will be the largest youth population in the country. So it is very possible that this trend of Hispanic influence in mainstream culture will continue to grow in the upcoming years.

Music leads the way

Ever since Ricky Martin made everybody dance at the 1999 Grammy awards, singing in Spanish and English, there has been a resurgence of interest in Hispanic artists and music styles by mainstream consumers. Martin’s crossover was not the first by a Hispanic artist — Desi Arnaz and Gloria Estefan did it before — but it is different because it appears that mainstream consumers, especially teens, are more open to experiencing different cultures. After Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias have also been extremely successful crossing over, and even a major mainstream artist like Christina Aguilera is also crossing over but in the opposite direction, coming out with a Spanish-language record. American pop culture has embraced Hispanic rhythms and artists, from Santana, who dominated last year’s Grammy awards by picking up the most awards for his latest album (which included Spanish-language songs), to Jennifer Lopez, the first artist ever to have a #1 song and #1 movie the same week in the U.S. Just recently, Chayanne, the Puerto Rican singer, made Ally McBeal nervous with his passionate dancing in prime time television.

Food is trendier, fashion starting to change

Hispanic food is already very popular throughout the U.S. Besides tacos and Mexican style salsa, there now are trendy restaurants, like Patria in New York, where young non-Hispanics flock to try a new Latino cuisine, eating empanadas (meat pies) while having a shot of a premium brand of tequila. Mexican beer brands, especially Corona, have become a staple for trendy consumers around the country, while Chilean wine is sold in most supermarkets, even in the ones located in Napa valley. In HBO’s popular Sex and the City series, the protagonist was recently shown drinking Cristal, a Colombian aguardiente, at a party where only the “in” crowd in Manhattan was invited. Fashion is also been influenced by Hispanics. Young cool Americans are often seen wearing guayaberas, a Cuban shirt, in super hip South Beach in Miami and the trendiest nightclubs in Los Angeles and New York. Major clothing designers like Versace and stores like the Gap started recently to include Hispanic inspired designs with great results.

Mainstream brands with Hispanic flavors

Hispanic consumers see that major companies are communicating with them in their language, using icons from their culture, and emphasizing values that are part of what it means to be Hispanic. Some participants in Los Angeles told me recently that finally major corporations are talking to them directly. “We spend money on their products like everybody else and it’s about time they pay attention to us. Our dollars are as green as anyone else’s.” Another recent indication of the rise of the Hispanic culture is the successful introduction of Hispanic-influenced flavors and products by well-known brands. The best example of this is Haagen-Dazs and its flavor dulce de leche. Dulce de leche, which is made out of milk instead of butter, like caramel, is well known throughout Latin America and it has become a very popular ice cream flavor with mainstream consumers, becoming second only to vanilla for Haagen-Dazs. On its Web site, Haagen-Dazs explains that it went to Argentina, where dulce de leche ice cream is the number one flavor, developed its product there, and, once it had become a top seller, introduced it in the U.S. It positioned the product as a premium flavor and have had great results ever since, coming out with frozen yogurt and low-fat versions as well. The interesting part of this particular product is that not only was the inspiration for the flavor in Latin America, but that Haagen-Dazs came out with packaging in which the name of the flavor is in larger print in Spanish, and the English translation is below in a smaller copy. This usage of Spanish by a major ice cream manufacturer signals to Hispanic consumers what they have known all along: that Hispanic foods have flavors that appeal to people outside of the Hispanic culture. Other ice cream companies have followed Haagen–Dazs’s lead and have come out with dulce de leche, such as Starbucks and Edy’s. Other examples of major brands coming out with Hispanic flavors are Kool-Aid and Gatorade, which have a flavor called mandarina, again in Spanish on the label, with the translation “tangerine” below and in smaller print.

Changing landscape

Hispanic populations have emerged in many areas of the U.S. No longer are they only found in New York, California, Texas, and Florida. Hispanic communities have sprung up in states like Georgia, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and Massachusetts, among many others, forever changing the demographic landscape in those markets. Hispanics number approximately 36 million in the U.S., and are supposed to become the largest minority in the five years. Their purchasing power has grown approximately 67 percent since 1990, to $365 billion. Though some companies like Toyota, AT&T, and Pepsi are already talking to Hispanics, there are still many companies that do not take them into consideration and barely spend any research and marketing dollars talking to them. For other companies, it has become crucial to address Hispanics with advertising, products and services that appeal to their cultural background. As the influence of Hispanic culture continues to increase, these companies will earn a worthwhile return on their investment in communicating with Hispanic consumers.   

From the Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1999, pp. A1, A8.
Read Their Lips
When You Translate ‘Got Milk’ for Latinos, What Do You Get?
The Answer Was a Surprise For a Marketing Group Courting Hispanic Teens

The Meaning of Biculturalism

LOS ANGELES—It was late February
when Jeff Manning began to focus
on a phenomenon he had never had occasion
to think about before: slathering
peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla.
The executive director of the California
Mill Processor Board, Mr. Manning
was poring over a report on the Latino
community, searching for a way to reverse
an industry sales slump in the heavily Hispanic
southern portion of the state.
And right there on page 12, the answer
seemed to jump out at him: The
ranks of Hispanic teenagers, it noted, are
projected to swell to 18% of the U.S.
teen population over the next decade, up
from 12% now. “When you see that kind
of number, it’s like, ‘Wow,’ ” says Mr.
Manning, whose organization is behind
the ubiquitous “Got Milk?” advertising
But appealing to these youngsters, he
learned isn’t as simple as cutting an ad
in Spanish with tried-and-true Hispanic
themes. The kids often live in two
worlds: one rich in traditional Latino
values such as a strong commitment to
family and religion, the other in which
they eagerly take part in mainstream
teen America. The report described how
they bounce between hip-hop and Rock
en Espanol; watch “Buffy the Vampire
Slayer” with their friends and Spanish
telenovelas (nighttime soap operas) with
their parents; blend Mexican rice with spaghetti
sauce—and spread PB&J on tortillas.
When it comes to “young biculturals,”
the “conventional model” of straight
Spanish-language advertising “is irrelevant,”
Roxana Lissa, a Beverly Hills
public-relations consultant who had prepared
the report, told Mr. Manning.
To Mr. Manning, who spent 25 years
at major ad agencies before joining the
milk board in 1993, Ms. Lissa’s advice
made perfect sense. Soon, he was talking
up the possibility of a “cutting edge”
milk ad shot in “Spanglish.” He foresaw
combining distinctive Latino imagery
with sights and sounds that are seductive
to teenagers of all backgrounds. “I want
to capture both worlds,” Mr. Manning
Four months later, a milk spot aimed
at Hispanic teens is now ready. It will
be aired across California starting next
week on the Spanish-language network
Telemundo. But the end result is radically
different from what Mr. Manning
and his team first envisioned—a turn of
events that stirred passions and raised a
question with broad implications: What
is the smartest way to peddle products
to one of the fastest-growing demographic
groups in the country?
* * *
As she sits in her small office one
morning in mid-March, ad agency president
Anita Santiago is pumped up by the
prospect of producing a new style of
television commercial.
Since 1994, Ms. Santiago’s client
roster has included the milk board, for
which her firm has generated a series of
Spanish-language TV ads tailored to
Latino moms. Because “Got Milk?”
doesn’t translate well into Spanish—it
comes out as “Are You Lactating?”—the
moms have their own slogan: “And You,
Have You Given Them Enough Milk Today?”
With tender scenes centered
around cooking flan and other milk-rich
Latin classics in the family kitchen
(some of the ads were directed by the
cinematographer from the film “Like
Water for Chocolate”), the campaign has
proved popular in its own right.
Yet as Ms. Santiago contemplates the
approach that Mr. Manning has in mind,
she realizes there is no easy formula to
follow. “The word ‘bicultural’ has been
thrown around a lot, but I don’t think
anybody has really figured it out,” says
Ms. Santiago, who founded her Santa
Monica, Calif., agency 12 years ago.
Not that others haven’t recognized
the dual worlds of Latino teens. A couple
of years ago, for instance, McDonald’s
Corp. hawked its french fries in
ads featuring soccer star Tab Ramos
hanging out with basketball’s Scottie
Pippen. During the 1993 baseball All
Star game, a Spanish-language ad for
Nike Inc. ran on CBS with English subtitles,
a strategy other major companies
have mirrored. And a Levi Strauss &
Co. commercial last year fitted a pair of
jeans on a hip, young Latina who asserts
her independence in Spanish as well as
Ms. Santiago imagines pushing the
concept even further. “We’re going to
put ourselves right into that third reality”
Latino teens experience, she says.
Meanwhile, up in San Francisco,
there is similar excitement at Goodby,
Silverstein & Partners, a unit of Omnicom
Group Inc. that in 1993 created the
“Got Milk?” campaign. Jeff Goodby, the
agency’s co-chairman, believes that by
joining with Ms. Santiago, they can create
a bicultural ad that will find a home
not only on Spanish television, but on
general market television as well. Says
Mr. Goodby, whose firm has done work
for Nike, Anheuser-Busch Cos., The
Wall Street Journal and other big clients:
“It’s a killer idea.”
The next step: Convene some focus
groups of Latino teens, and determine
which of their buttons to push.
Mana and Korn
At an office building near the Los
Angeles airport in late March, Mr. Manning,
Ms. Lissa and representatives from
the two ad agencies are lined up behind
a giant one-way window, noshing on
M&M’s and observing a group of Hispanic
teenage girls relating their likes
and dislikes.
“You can speak Spanish or English
or any mixture—however you feel comfortable,”
the focus-group moderator,
Horacio Segal, tells the eight 13- to 15-
year-old girls seated around him.
As the two-hour session gets under
way, the girls move seamlessly between
the two languages. They tell of how they
tune in to both Spanish- and Englishlanguage
television, and rock out to the
Mexican band Mana and the Anglo
group Korn. They characterize themselves
as “Latina,” while magazines to
which they relate best are Seventeen and
Teen People.
They seem, in short to be the very
embodiment of biculturalism that Ms.
Lissa had sketched out. But as the girls
watch a string of television commercials,
something surprising happens—at
least in Mr. Manning’s view.
The spot they are most enthusiastic
about is an ad in English for Kellogg’s
Corn Pops. It depicts a grunged-out teen
being lectured by his parents, when all
he wants to do is eat his cereal—a scene
that several of the girls say they can
identify with, though it contains no special
message for those straddling two
At the same time, an ad in Spanish
for Mountain Dew with the Chilean
techno-rock band La Ley doesn’t resonate
much. And the Levi’s commercial
in which the heroine speaks in Spanish
and English doesn’t work at all; a few
of the girls complain that it’s unclear
what the ad is even about.
For Mr. Manning, the girls’ reactions
are eye-opening: They may be bicultural,
he thinks, but as consumers of advertising
they appear to be completely
acculturated. As for language, they don’t
seem to care—or even notice—whether
the message is delivered in Spanish or
English or both. They never raise the
matter with Mr. Segal.
A little later, the girls’ attention turns
to “Got Milk?” and, again, Mr. Manning
is taken aback. He had always expected
that the humorous campaign, which the
California milk board licenses nationally,
would be well-known and even
liked by Latino teens; after all, “Got
Milk?” has become part of the American
vernacular. But he also anticipated that
some in the group would gripe that the
ads don’t speak at all to their bicultural
Instead, the girls gush over the commercials.
They “make you feel like
you’re thirsty,” says Olga, an eighthgrader
who came to the U.S. from Mexico
11 years ago. As six different “Got
Milk?” ads are played in succession, the
room erupts in laughter.
Sue Smith, Goodby Silverstein’s
planning director, leans over to Mr. Manning
and whispers: “They really love
this stuff.” Mr. Manning, clad in a “Got
Milk?” T-shirt, beams.
A subsequent focus group, of boys
the same age, is a bit less effusive about
the “Got Milk?” campaign. But they still
find the ads funny, and likewise don’t
say a word about language or lack of a
bicultural perspective. Two more focus
groups the next night, of 16- to 19-yearolds,
do raise questions as to why more
Hispanics aren’t being cast in the ads.
By then, however, it’s too late. Mr.
Manning has all but decided to turn the
notion of biculturalism on its head. His
Ad Firm Tries to Translate ‘Got Milk’ for Latino Teens
new idea: to take the existing “Got
Milk?” spots and air them without any
changes on Spanish-language television.
What’s the Problem?
“Am I missing something? Tell me if
I’m missing something.”
A week has passed since the focus
groups, and Mr. Manning’s voice is
booming from a speaker-phone on Ms.
Santiago’s conference table. She and
several associates gather around. Ms.
Lissa and Ms. Smith are also patched in.
In order to justify a brand-new campaign
for Latino teens, “you’ve got to
start with problems, guys,” says Mr.
Manning, back in his own office in
Berkeley. “Where were the big problems
with ‘Got Milk?’ ”
The line falls silent for a moment before
Ms. Lissa offers up an answer: The
teens “didn’t think the ads were speaking
to them.”
“But they did,” Mr. Manning says,
cutting her off quickly. “They like them.
They laughed at them.”
By now, everybody knows where
things are headed. Before the meeting,
Ms. Santiago had proclaimed Mr. Manning’s
plan to introduce “Got Milk?”—in
English—on Spanish-language television
a “disaster.” “I have to find a diplomatic
way of telling him,” she had said.
Yet there is no way. Mr. Manning
can’t get past the fact that most of the
teens loved the “Got Milk?” ads, and
showed no special affinity for the spots
that were supposed to reflect their bicultural
lives. Ms. Smith agrees, chiming
in with a strong British accent that,
when it comes to advertising, “these teenagers
are just like any other teenagers.”
Ms. Santiago looks up at the skull
mask and other Mexican folk art hanging
on the wall and rolls her eyes.
“Got Milk?” is “a very Anglo campaign,”
she counters. She voices concern
that its appearance on Spanish television
could conflict with her commercials for
the moms. Being deprived of milk—the
basis for the humor throughout the “Got
Milk?” ads—“is not funny to” an older
Hispanic audience, she says. “They’ve
been there too often.”
Ms. Lissa raises concerns, too. Unlike
previous immigrant groups, she
says, many Latinos embrace their language
and heritage more strongly as
they get older and become more established
in America; advertising in English,
therefore, may be a lousy way to
foster long-term product loyalty. Beyond
that, she worries that sticking “Got
Milk? on Spanish-language television
could well be perceived as an insult, especially
among Latino community leaders.
“It shows a lack of commitment,”
says the energetic Argentine native.
Mostly, she and Ms. Santiago argue
that they’re letting a tremendous opportunity
slip away and that, at a minimum,
a lot more research into bicultural teens
is needed. “You can say these teens are
the same as everybody else, but they’re
not,” Ms. Santiago says after the meeting.
“They don’t look the same. They
don’t talk the same.”
But Mr. Manning won’t budge. He
says that he’ll certainly look to place
more Latino actors in the regular “Got
Milk?” campaign. And he may further
explore a bicultural ad at some point.
But any urgency he had to develop a
whole new campaign has waned.
Broadcast Views
“I don’t want to look like we’re backing
off this group of people,” he says.
“But as a marketer, I can’t find a rationale”
for launching a bunch of new ads.
He is confident that his alternative
scheme will “extend the reach” of “Got
Milk?”—without having to shell out
hundreds of thousands of dollars for
new creative work.
As it happens, Ms. Santiago and Ms.
Lissa aren’t the only ones with doubts
about airing “Got Milk?” on Spanishlanguage
Univision, the leading Spanish-language
network (and the fifth-largest network
in the U.S.), swiftly rejects the
ads. It cites a policy against showing a
commercial “as it currently airs on English-
language television.” Univision
doesn’t even accept general-market
commercials with Spanish dubbed in,
finding the money-saving technique a
slap to its viewers.
Telemundo, a distant No. 2 in the Spanish
TV wars, has squishier guidelines.
But officials there also express some reluctance.
“It seems counterproductive”
for the milk board to go on Spanish-language
television with commercials that
“do not feature Latinos or are in nonrelevant
scenarios to a Latino consumer,”
Eduardo Dominguez, the station
manager at Telemundo’s Los Angeles affiliate,
writes to Ms. Santiago. Instead,
he urges Mr. Mannings’ outfit to devise
original ads “reflecting the lives and nuances
which Latinos can associate with
In late April, despite its misgivings,
Telemundo warily accepts one ad with
no dialogue, save for a voice at the end
intoning, “Got Milk?” In the spot, which
first ran in 1994, a priest stuffs a hunk
of chocolate cake into his mouth and
then becomes frantic when he can’t get
a carton of milk out of a vending machine.
Two nuns stumble across him as
he flails wildly. Mr. Dominguez says
he’ll be watching to make sure that,
given the Latino community’s reverence
of the church, there is no “significant
public protest.”
But Mr. Manning—who held additional
focus groups with moms to see if
they’d be put off by the ad—isn’t worried
about a possible backlash. Indeed,
he hopes that once this first add appears
on Telemundo next week, additional
“Got Milk?” commercials with even
more English will follow.
For Ms. Santiago, that’s a sour prospect.
“This is taking a step backwards,”
she says. For Mr. Manning, it’s something
else entirely: “We’re breaking new