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Hispanic teens set urban beat

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If marketers want to discover what's one of the hottest emerging segments among U.S. consumer groups, they need just look in hospital maternity wards, grade schools and streets in Northern and Sun Belt markets.

Almost one in five children born in the U.S. today is of Latin American descent, and more than half of all children born in Los Angeles alone are born to Latino mothers, says Isabel Valdes, chairwoman and founder of cultural marketing research company Santiago Valdes Solutions, San Francisco.

The 2000 census rang loud and clear for marketers throughout the U.S.: The Hispanic population-and especially its youth-cannot be ignored. Some have compared the current boom in Hispanic youth to the baby boom population of the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

"We're talking about massive numbers," she says. "If these kids don't grow up with your brand, why should they purchase your brand as adults?"

HISPANIC YOUTH GAINS

Only recently have Hispanic youth been recognized as an important market, says Roberto Ramos, the 28-year-old president and founder of Ruido Group, New York, an upstart Hispanic youth marketing company that already has landed such clients as Coca-Cola Co., Viacom's MTVS and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"The census was only an official document validating what we see already in our subways, listening to on the radio or seeing on television," he says. "This makes it imperative for brands to speak to them in a relevant fashion, which is becoming more and more relevant to the general market as well."

Some marketers have been conflicted about how to reach the Latino audience. They've wondered whether to create Hispanic-focused ad creative, dub or remake general-market campaigns into Spanish, or run English-language work and trust it would pick up bilingual Hispanics.

But research shows that even among Hispanic youth, in-language and in-culture messages outperform English-language work, says Peter Roslow, president of Roslow Research Group. In a 2000 Hispanic teens study, the researcher found, "Advertising to Hispanics in Spanish is significantly more effective than advertising to bilingual Hispanics in English." Among Hispanic teens, English ads are 28% less effective than Spanish ads in terms of ad recall, 54% less effective in terms of persuasion and 14% less effective in terms of communication.

Mr. Roslow isn't surprised.

COMFORTABLE IN DIFFERENT SPHERES

"I'm always amazed by the `Hispanicness' of Hispanic teens," says Mr. Roslow. "They're speaking Spanish at home, both [languages] with friends, English for college and the Internet, but they're very much into the [Hispanic] culture. Even when they're born here. It's downright breathtaking."

It's important for marketers to know those beliefs and values, and speak their language as well, adds Tony Dieste, president-CEO with Dieste & Partners. Sensing the growth of the Latino youth market, the Dallas agency has focused on that group for such clients as PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co. for Pepsi, Frito-Lay for Chee-tos and Doritos, and Quaker Oats Co. for Cap'n Crunch, Life and Gatorade; AOL Time Warner's HBO Latino; and Hyundai Motor America, which is targeting young Hispanic drivers.

Dieste & Partners several years ago created LateenoNet, a network of people whom agency executives can call for the latest trends in fashions, car accessorizing, slang and graffiti, Mr. Dieste says. In June, the agency worked with client Pepsi to sign 24-year-old Colombian pop sensation and Grammy winner Shakira to an ad and concert sponsorship deal.

"It kind of puts your thumb on the pulse of what's happening on the street," Mr. Dieste says of the outreach efforts. "Thinking young and being young help you develop very youthful, cutting edge ideas."

Networks like the WB and UPN have slotted more cultural programming recently. Viacom's Nickelodeon has offered English-language content targeting Hispanics, and shows have been translated to air on Hispanic networks.

Targeting Hispanic youth may attract more than Hispanics, adds Luis Miguel Messianu, chief creative officer with Del Rivero Messianu, Miami, of which Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide Communications owns a minority stake. Non-Hispanic friends of Mr. Messianu's 13- and 17-year-old children enjoy many of the same entertainers as his kids, including crossover sensations Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. And their non-Hispanic friends are brushing up on their Spanish.

"It's very cool to be Hispanic at this age. It almost makes them more attractive, exotic," he says. "Hispanic teens are brushing up on their Spanish and celebrating their culture."

CROSSOVER PICKUP

Though its content is 99% Spanish, MTVS enjoys significant crossover viewership among its target audience of 12-to-24-year-old Hispanics and non-Hispanics, says Eric Sherman, VP-digital television for MTV and VH1. As MTV's U.S. Hispanic youth channel markets to Hispanic viewers in street festivals in Miami, San Francisco or New York, network executives and other marketers have learned that the best way to reach this audience is not just through language but by culturally relevant efforts.

"If [on-air hosts] want to speak English, we don't mind as we know our audience is bilingual," Mr. Sherman says. "It's not about being bilingual. It's about being bicultural. They are engrossed in the American culture, but they take an incredible amount of pride in being Latino."

The burgeoning U.S. Hispanic youth population was growing before the census, Mr. Messianu adds. It's more than "cold statistics," he says. It is the future, adds Mr. Roslow: "Marketing to Hispanics is marketing to the youth market."

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