Music in the Hispanic Market: Different Generation, Different Tunes

It Can Be a Powerful Brand Attribute -- If You Don't Slip Into Cliched Playlists

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Luis Miguel Messianu
Luis Miguel Messianu
Music has always played an important role in my life. My father lost his own father at an early age and supported himself and his mother by playing violin and sax for an orchestra back in Romania. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps and imposed violin lessons on me at age 6. It wasn't the hippest instrument a young boy could think of, and at 12 I finally had the guts to rebel and quit my lessons. Little did I know that my old man (who was initially opposed to my pursuing advertising) had given me the basis for an important component of my work, and that my early musical education would come in handy on more than one occasion.

A lot has been said about the role music can play in Hispanic advertising, more so than even in the general market (whatever that term means these days). We can say music is one of the clichés of our industry. It wasn't long ago that it was mistakenly considered to be the central idea -- as opposed to an executional component -- when it came to reaching Hispanics in the U.S. I remember when I first moved to Miami back in 1993 and I saw a commercial for a bank in which all the cashiers were dancing salsa. I remember asking myself, "Would I really want to deposit my money here?"

While music might not necessarily be the core idea for a campaign, in many cases music can help make it or break it, especially through its authentic use and application. Without a doubt, music is a universal connector. It's the language of youth and a way to self-express and self-define. Over time it has gone from being a communitarian cultural event that gathered the masses, to a very personal and intimate component of a person's life. That conversion to the individual started with the Walkman and has evolved with the expansiveness of digital technology. Our playlists are now part of our DNA and they can be considered to be an X-ray of the diverse parts of our lives.

For Hispanics, who cross languages, borders and cultures as a way of life, music is even more multidimensional. The fact is that as with most young adults, music is a prime passion point for what we at the agency call fusionistas. Yet today's young adults no longer self-define by a particular genre of music, and fusionistas are particularly eclectic in their musical tastes. They are feeling both 100% American and 100% Hispanic, and they have a unique way of navigating and harmonizing the new American diversity. That's why when we look at the wide range of Hispanics' playlists we can easily conclude that their playlists, like the American multicultural reality, son un guiso (are a stew). For them, playlists are a living testament to their personal intra- and inter-cultural fusions and they see nothing odd about shuffle on their iPod resulting in Cypress Hill followed by Los Tigres del Norte followed by Lady Gaga. Their playlists are the perfect showcase for their approach to life and evolve based on an infinite number of variables that are very unlike the linear "Amazon recommends" that is so ubiquitous.

For them, more than other Hispanics, their playlists are not defined by genre; they are mood pieces that showcase their living cultural reality. Music is used as a way to eclectically self-define. And being the digital-loving creatures that they are, this self- definition can take on as many facets as they wish, thanks to easy access to Latin and non-Latin music content from both all over the world and their own backyard.

For example, any discussion of Latin music must recognize the breadth and diversity of the regional Mexican genre. Comprising 60% of all Latin music sales, it is itself a huge category of music that includes Banda, Ranchera, Norteño, Mariachi, Duranguense, and several other styles associated with various regions of Mexico where they came into their own. But oddly enough most regional Mexican bands are developed first in the U.S., then introduced into Mexico (not the other way around as is typically assumed). You can call it the "Corona beer syndrome," since the brand became premium in the U.S. and then went back as a social badge phenomenon.

As you can tell, dear reader, music is very close to my heart. Music cannot be downplayed but it should be approached thoughtfully. It can become part of the "language" for a brand, an "audio logo" like the Ba da da da da that closes every McDonald's spot, or an amazing promotional connector. The challenge is to be in sync with what consumers really want and feel. We need to spark the right emotions because after all "Laughter is the music of the soul."

Footnote: The complex questions as they relate to music can ultimately be answered best by speaking to consumers themselves. Through a fusionista study and supplementary playlist ethnography we set out to answer some of these questions. The result is our second paper in the fusionista series: "Fusionistas -- Always in Sync." It takes a look at the Latin music industry, how consumers -- and fusionistas in particular -- experience it, and makes some recommendations for the development of tactics to harness the power of music to create an emotional connection when targeting young Hispanics.

Luis Miguel Messianu is president and chief creative officer of Alma DDB.
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