The Truth About Bicultural Consumers and How Marketers Are Taking Notice

Cultural Identity Is Crucial and Should Be Represented in Media

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Credit: Marina Filippelli
I am what you would call a completely bicultural and bilingual Hispanic, living and working in the United States. I use both languages for work and at home, to communicate with friends, family and in general in my day-to-day life.

I could easily move through life in a completely English-speaking, Americanized world. But I choose not to. That's why I need to be marketed to in a special way. Because I consume media and culture in both languages, I am invested in my heritage and perhaps most importantly, I want my children to have the same interest and respect for both how they are different and how they are like others in their world.

I'm not alone. Statistics show that a majority of Hispanics want their kids to speak Spanish, even when they themselves are not completely Spanish-dominant. That may portend the longevity of Spanish-language media, but more importantly it shows the significance of culture; our lives are not just about language.

Culture is different for everyone, but as marketers we need to know that, unlike past immigrants, today's groups are not looking to melt completely into the pot; they are adamant about maintaining things they define as cultural differences, and they want these to be represented.

Sometimes these differences are not obvious to Hispanics themselves, but they are nonetheless vital for marketers to understand. Our company recently conducted a study of Hispanic millennials, most of whom spoke just enough Spanish to keep their parents off their back. They did not consciously verbalize their "bicultureness." Some insisted that they weren't interested in defining themselves by their ethnic background. But it was there in almost all of their choices: TV shows, music, products they consumed, people they admired. To them it was just part of who they are, so deeply ingrained that it didn't warrant a separate definition or an explanation.

This generation may not be aware that people in the business world are taking notice of how they are different. To them it probably seems normal that TV networks are producing shows in English with Hispanic themes, like "QuinceaƱeras." Why not, that's how they grew up. Why wouldn't it be on TV? It probably also seems completely normal that in Los Angeles, Miami or New York, you can tune in a radio station where the music is top 40 pop and the DJs seamlessly flow between English, Spanish and Spanglish. This year several contestant on NBC's popular show "The Voice," sang in Spanish, and they made it clear that their dream was to work with Shakira, the Colombian pop star who appears on the show and who has had more hits in Spanish than English.

Still, if we take a broader look, there is a long road ahead. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of popular TV series like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal," recently named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people, has been vocal about the lack of multicultural representation in the entertainment industry. Rhimes recently tweeted, "Hey @abcfbunheads: really? You couldn't cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?"

Jennifer Lopez, one of America's most famous entertainers, said the following at this year's upfronts, "Generally speaking, television doesn't accurately portray the lives of Latinos today. So even though I'm on TV, when I turn it on, I don't see me." She has recently joined NUVOtv, a small cable network generating programming that Latinos don't see on the main English language networks.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently discussed its need to expand and diversify its ranks by relaxing a cap on membership that has restricted new admittances since 2004. A 2012 Los Angeles Times study found that nearly 94% of academy voters are white, and 77% are male. Blacks make up about 2% of the academy, Latinos less than 2%. Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed.

Why are these changes taking place? Because a movie ticket brings in the same revenue, no matter who buys it, and the entertainment industry is starting to realize that not all of us feel represented watching white males dominate the culture we consume.

As those creating content shift to try to be more inclusive, so are marketing departments nationwide. While some marketers have addressed the needs of multicultural segments of the population for years, some are still in the Stone Age. Some may still think that consumers like myself don't need to be addressed separately from their general market, but when you consider that over 40% of millennials are not white, do you really want to take that chance?

Marina Filippelli is a group account director at Heat in San Francisco.

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