Of Course Networks Don't Reach Many Hispanics: Look at the Stereotypes on TV

There's Little Sensitivity to the Subtleties and Intangibles of the Culture

By Published on .

I could not help but react with a mix of amusement and frustration as I read a recent New York Times article describing how the television networks are struggling to appeal to Hispanics.

This "struggle" goes back to the most basic premise of communication: understand your audience. It's that simple.

How in the world do the networks expect to appeal in a relevant way to the growing Hispanic population if they continue to portray Latinos in a stereotypical and often condescending way?

While I wholeheartedly celebrate the success and ubiquity of Sofia Vergara, starring on ABC's "Modern Family," her character is just a modern rendition of what Hollywood expects Latinos to be. Yes, her character is a step up from the maid and the waitress, but it is still an Anglo vision of a Hispanic role.

We went from Carmen Miranda and Charo to Sofia's character Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a spicy but low-IQ trophy wife (ironic since Sofia is considered to be very smart and a sharp businesswoman).

While it's great to see that she pocketed $19 million last year, between her role in "Modern Family" and several brand endorsements, surpassing Kim Kardashian, the content of the show doesn't appeal to the bulk of the Hispanic audience. It's another failed attempt from Hollywood, one that continues to pigeonhole and make caricatures of Latinos.

When the networks realize that Hispanics have become far more demanding and sophisticated, and especially when they make a real effort to understand the complex makeup of the young biculturals we call fusionistas, they will tap into a segment that is driving the trends and influencing many and diverse areas of modern life.

In the meantime the gap prevails. Spanish networks continue to thrive by reaching a strong segment of the Hispanic population, in general a bit older and more traditional, mostly foreign born. They are keen on content about their passions: music, sports, news from back home and novelas (for which, by the way, the roles are developed by Latinos for Latinos, understanding that it's OK to be reminded of our origins, cultural nuances and even shortcomings, by our own people, which clearly makes a difference). The subtleties and intangibles of a culture are always more complex than what appears on the surface.

There's a similar problem in the world of advertising. Many agency networks want to tap into the growing multicultural arena, but they go after it only because they see a business opportunity to offset general market shrinkage. They lack deep cultural insight and even more so, conviction and philosophical commitment.

Our market is ripe and ready to embrace original, aspirational and uniquely meaningful content. The question is , how to crack the code. From my perspective it's a three-legged stool, in which advertisers, working closely with their agency partners and the networks -- Hispanic or not -- should be open to listen and to do the right thing (and that isn't always just what's "politically correct").

Luis Miguel Messianu is president and chief creative officer, 

Alma, Miami.
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