U.S. Hispanic Population Is Growing, but This Isn't Your Abuela's Latino Community

The 'Bridge Generation' Has a Different Cultural DNA

By Published on .

Hernan Lopez
Hernan Lopez
Imagine you woke up to read in the 2010 Census results that the U.S. population grew by 27 million in the past decade, and 23 million of those people were women. As a marketer, you'd surely be calling an urgent meeting. A change of that magnitude is precisely what has happened with U.S. Hispanics.

By now it is clear: The Latino community continues to grow and evolve at exponential rates. Politicians and businesses are taking notice and scrambling to cater to this still (surprisingly) under-served segment. Something else is also becoming apparent: This is not your abuela's Latino community of two decades ago. A new generation has emerged, with a new Latino DNA, and marketers who fail to decode it will struggle to survive.

According to these latest Census estimates, Latinos now make up 18% (50 million people) of the nation's population. To put that into perspective, the U.S. Hispanic population is more numerous than the entire population of Canada.

However, the more telling statistics have to do with the Hispanic growth rate. Latinos and other minorities were responsible for an astonishing 85% of U.S. population growth in the past 10 years, and that growth happened well beyond Texas and Florida. In fact, the state with the fastest-growing Hispanic population is the heart of Nascar Nation, North Carolina, which also shows that Hispanics have begun to establish roots in areas of the U.S. outside the typical points of entry.

Latino growth is outpacing every other ethnic/racial group. Hispanics will become the majority in our two most populous states, California and Texas, within the next decade. As a marketer, it's not difficult to imagine the economic implications of this.

A harder task will be to decipher the new cultural DNA of Latinos in the U.S. What makes us so unique and why are so many companies unprepared to reach us? First and foremost, the Latinos who will come of age in the next few years are already different from their parents for one main reason: Many were born here. While Hispanic population growth in the 1980s and 1990s was primarily driven by immigrants arriving to the U.S. in search of economic prosperity, today's Hispanic growth can be attributed, overwhelmingly, to the group's American-born children. They are bilingual, bicultural and increasingly influential within their multi-generational households.

Dubbed the "bridge generation" in a recent study by MRM Worldwide, these young, U.S.-born Latinos move comfortably between English and Spanish depending on the situation. They attend American schools and have American friends. By every method of measure, they are American. And while they still retain their Hispanic cultural identity, they have increasingly discerning tastes and a desire for new experiences.

Our mindset is no longer defined by language preference, age or acculturation level. It is guided by an evolved set of shared values and needs.

While plenty of advertising dollars are being spent to reach the Spanish-dominant Latinos who still watch telenovelas on the major Spanish-language networks, very little marketing has been directed toward the evolved Latino mindset. We are more tech-savvy now. We spend more time on mobile devices than our non-Hispanic peers. We use social media as a means to communicate, express ourselves and create, and we spend more time online than non-Hispanics.

The new Latino consumer is increasingly sophisticated. We want high-quality content in any language, and we will not pay attention to entertainment with secondary production values merely because the program is in our parents' native tongue. Yet we still want more than the average English-language network offers.

A few companies and entertainment providers have started to take notice of the new Latino DNA and are rushing to fill the gap. Some are providing high-quality content created for Hispanic men and women who identify equally with both cultures. They realize that this incredibly important demographic is key to future growth and the sustainability of their media businesses.

It is clear that business executives will need to realize how crucial it is to reach the new Latino consumer and gain our loyalty early in the game. The strategy has to change. It will no longer be about reaching a small segment of the mainstream population. Hispanics are quickly becoming the mainstream.

Hernan Lopez is president of Fox International Channels.
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