Part of our Annual Media Report, Managing Editor Michael Bowker asks two renowned scholars to weigh in on what the mainstream media needs to do to better understand white-collar, middle-class Hispanics. Princeton University Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Marta Tienda, and Rutgers University Dean of the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Jorge Reina Schement, offer their views on the complexities of reaching this underserved demographic.
For many of America's corporate advertisers and media outlets, the approach to the U.S. Hispanic consumer is simple -- translate English slogans into Spanish, and put a family-oriented picture on it.
The fact is much of the mainstream American media doesn't yet get that the Hispanic population in America is as complex as America itself. Hispanic media experts believe that marketers can become more effective at reaching the rapidly growing ranks of Hispanic entrepreneurs and business professionals and leaders by raising the level of message sophistication. Such messages must recognize that while these white-collar, knowledge workers have the same needs as mainstream America, their Hispanic heritage and culture often still play important roles in their lives.
"The simplest story is the one that is easiest to tell, but we are not a simple story," said Dr. Schement, who has written extensively on the subject. "The differences between the cultures of all the world's Hispanic countries and our individual level of acculturation into American society tends to be lost in mainstream media. Reaching the majority of U.S. Hispanics -- who tend to be proficient in English -- is not as simple as putting up a Spanish-language billboard in East Los Angeles."
Spanish-only speaking immigrants are well served by the media in the U.S. More than a hundred U.S. ad agencies, not including those from Latin countries such as Puerto Rico, Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico, which sometimes supply ad copy and campaigns for American companies, perform an increasing amount of the ad work designated for the U.S. Hispanic market. Corporations often gauge their sensitivities and efforts toward the U.S. Hispanic population by the number of Spanish language ads and programs they create. Both presidential candidates wooed Hispanic voters through Spanish-language advertisements even though a healthy percentage of Hispanic consumers, executives, entrepreneurs and voters are bilingual or English speakers only.
"Media references to 'the Hispanic market' and 'advertising agencies' references to 'Hispanic consumers' convey Hispanicity as a monolithic identity, defined through contrast with non-Hispanics," Dr. Tienda contends in her book, Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies. This is deceptive, she writes because "it masks the great diversity among the Hispanic population and implies a monolithic group that does not exist."
A Preference For English
Advertisers and the media should understand that the most obvious and rapidly growing Hispanic population, the college-educated, English-speaking entrepreneurs and white-collar knowledge professionals, often share more concerns with their neighbors than with recent immigrants.
"Why would I need to be addressed in Spanish to meet my professional needs?" asked Dr. Tienda. "Why would a CEO, whose family has typically been in the U.S. for at least a couple of generations, need to get his or her daily information about the world in Spanish? The more highly educated, the more English becomes our primary language."
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