New Latino Identity Study Redefines Today's Hispanic Community

Over 40% Self-Identify as 'Brown,' 'Mestizo' or 'Mulatto'; Will Spanish-Language Media Diversify?

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Chiqui Cartagena
Chiqui Cartagena
This is "upfront" week and while the Hispanic networks will once again show off what's new for next season, I was more intrigued by a presentation to be held this evening by Telemundo and Starcom Mediavest Group, which will unveil the results from the "Beyond Demographics Latino Identity Research Initiative." Although I've only been privy to the qualitative results, this study reaffirms -- once again -- that we must let go of the current "limited" definition of the Latino community driven by language, country of origin and level of acculturation and embrace the not-so-new, but still emerging reality of the U.S. Latino community.

"This study shows that the U.S. Latino experience extends well beyond the stereotypical immigrant story we see all too often as the representative face of the community" says Esther 'E.T.' Franklin, exec VP-director of cultural identities at SMG. "It reveals a spectrum of rich identities which are either invisible or overlooked by many marketers ... as well as identities that are emerging and unexpected," she adds.

This is the third study of its kind conducted by SMG's Cultural Identities unit led by Franklin. Some of you may remember the first study on the African-American Identities that was revealed at the ANA Multicultural Conference in 2007. A second study on Asian Identities followed it.

Unlike past studies, this one was conducted in partnership with Telemundo and, according to a brief released ahead of today's presentation, it set out to gain "fresh, unique insights in the U.S. Latino consumer: their identities, their demand for relevant content and how they want it delivered." The study was conducted in two phases with qualitative and quantitative research. "By partnering with Telemundo we have a direct pipeline to new content models that were not available before," says Franklin.

"On the eve of a new Census, consumer insights that go beyond the demographic numbers will be a key advantage for marketers in what we call the 'New Now' ... when Hispanic marketing needs to be part of the core strategy," said Jacqueline Hernandez, chief operating officer, Telemundo Communications Group.

I applaud the visionary leadership of Telemundo for not only seeing the value of supporting this kind of research and leading the charge on the changing media needs of Latinos in the U.S., but also for creating new programming opportunities based on the results of this study that are designed to engage and compel a broader spectrum of Hispanic viewers.

The need (and opportunity) to create new content became clear to SMG after it conducted their first study on African-American Identities.

"The African-American Study was our pilot identity model," says Franklin. "What that identity approach did was to give us a new way for advertisers to envision the African-American community. It gave us new metrics, new language, and it gave us another way to think about opportunity areas, which is why we've started to move toward content."

As a result of that 2007 study, SMG was able to develop an algorithm that allowed them to fuse data on African-American identities with industry metrics such as MRI and Nielsen ratings , all of which resulted in a more focused and effective media buying and planning process.

"Now that we have a deeper understanding of Black identities and how these different people use media across platforms, we have been using it to define 'content gaps' within the Black community and to give strategies that help clients have a better understanding of the right balance of African American vehicles and targeted vehicles that should be used to have an effective reach against the African American audience," she adds.

That is the goal of the Latino study as well: to find the content gaps that exist within the current Hispanic media offerings and the newly defined "Latino identities" and provide new ways to fill them, with relevant content that can be seen on TV or delivered online or any other medium out there.

While this new study defines 12 distinct Latino identities, they are bundled into four main categories: Change Agents, Principle Lead, Cultural Revivers and Achievement Bound. While still acknowledging the newly arrived and more traditional Spanish-dominant segments, this study validates -- once again -- the growing impact of the new Hispanic market which is defined by predominantly bilingual and English-dominant segments, who have very different attitudes, behaviors and media usage patterns.

"The evolution from language preference to language fluidity ... as well as the idea of evolving from a conversation centered around acculturation, which feels flat in light of the complex U.S. Latino experience, to one that begins to capture the notion of cultural dexterity is a more intricate perspective on the ways Hispanics maneuver in and out of one or more cultural environment while staying infused with their Latino identity," explains Franklin.

Two points that illustrate the richness of this deeper segmentation model and demonstrate the nuances of the new Hispanic market can be seen through questions that were asked during the quantitative study around race/ethnicity and sexual orientation. In addition to asking respondents about their race/ethnicity classification, this study asked respondents to describe their skin color. Not surprisingly, about half said, white. What was surprising was that over 40% checked Brown/Mestizo/Mulatto. On that front I actually think English-language media is more representative than Spanish-language media, where you barely see any people of color on the TV.

Another interesting bit of information from this study came as a result of asking respondents not only about their gender, but also about their sexual orientation. "Over 90% of the respondents answered the question and there were enough indicating LGBT orientation to register in the data; yet another indication of an evolving, emerging community in identity and mindset as well," observes Franklin.

With a new memoir by Ricky Martin in which he finally comes out and with Gay Pride Month just a few weeks away, I say it's about time!

Chiqui Cartagena is the senior VP of multicultural marketing at Story Worldwide. She is also the author of Latino Boom!: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business in the U.S. Hispanic Market.
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