Editor’s note: Horacio Segal is president of Planet Latino Market
Intelligence, Inc., a Miami qualitative research firm.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 By RICK WARTZMAN Staff reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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 campaign. 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 declared. 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 English. 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 cultures. 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 existence. 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 television. 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 intimately.” 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 ground.”