AHAA’s Position on…
Latino Cultural Identity
Redefining Latino Culture and Identity:
What Makes a Latino, Latino?
(Carl Kravetz, 2006)
An exciting project is reshaping the way the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies views and talks about Latino consumers. At our semi-annual conference in Miami six weeks ago, AHAA unveiled the findings of a nine-month project that tackled the question of what makes a Latino, Latino. Curiously, a week later, the ANA held its annual conference during which speaker after speaker talked about the importance of letting go of long-held practices in which brands were in control and moving toward developing higher quality relationships with consumers. The formation of these kinds of relationships, as A.G Lafley, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, said, can only be developed when brands create more timely and opportune connections and this can happen only when we place a premium on understanding the “who” and the “what” of our consumers.
The ability of Latino advertising agencies to help our clients establish more opportune connections is precisely why AHAA set out to re-examine the “who” the “what” and most significantly, the “why” of Latino consumers through our Latino Identity Project. Contrary to what you might have heard, the Latino Identity Project was not about the death of the Spanish-language or the irrelevance of Spanish-language media. Quite the opposite is true. Spanish-language media is more than alive and well as witnessed by the $2.40 billion they generated during the first six months of this year and the record 11.3 million viewers that tuned into the broadcast of the Latin Grammy’s two weeks ago! AHAA believes that the growth of Spanish-language media should continue at the current pace, if not faster, because Spanish-language media still getting only 40% of what they should. However, we also believe that it’s just part of the total Latino pie. Why should you care about this? Well, if you’re a publicly traded company that ultimately answers to shareholders, there is not a single one of the 15 share points held by Hispanic consumers that you can afford NOT to care about.
We all know that there is an increasingly bicultural Hispanic household dynamic taking shape. The growing sophistication of Latino consumers, their greater mix of language ability and preference, the extensive media choices now available to Latino consumers, and external forces -- such as the immigration debate -- are radically changing the “who” and the “what” of Latino consumers. As a result, it is no longer enough to rely exclusively on the language we use, the country from which we come, or the time we have lived here to develop meaningful connections with Hispanic consumers.
It is for these reasons that the conclusions of AHAA’s Latino Identity Project emphasize that Latino identity is not exclusively about language, but that it is complex and multi-faceted.
Gone are the days of advertising to the “safe Hispanic.” You know whom I’m talking about. It is:
- A family with two children,
- Abuelita and other extended family members,
- Latin music,
- And a strong preference for Spanish.
Yes! Gone are the days of a simplified, one-size-fits all approach to target a largely immigrant, Spanish-language dominant, conservative, blue collar, family- oriented Hispanic who is “brand loyal,” lives on novelas and “Sabado Gigante,” and doesn’t read or use coupons. Today, the “safe Hispanic” has been revealed for what it really was…a simplistic and not very enlightening archetype. But, without a “safe Hispanic” or a checklist of what makes advertising “Hispanic,” how does one make sense of and effectively target this group of consumers, which has challenged the assimilation pattern of every immigrant group before it, as it grows increasingly complex and interesting? AHAA believes that the answer lies in something equally complex and interesting: Identity.
This is a significant shift for the Hispanic advertising industry because for so long we all agreed that language…specifically the Spanish-language…was what best defined Hispanic consumers. And it was not an altogether wrong assumption. In fact, over the past 40 years it spawned an industry that is today $5 billion dollars strong. And today Spanish-language media reach about half of the country’s 45 million Hispanic consumers. But focusing on language is looking backward. Opportunity lives in the future. And, frankly, no one is better positioned to take advantage of that future opportunity than the companies that already do so well in our space. Univisión is an interesting example.
Twenty years ago they may have been successful because they were in Spanish. But today the bar is higher. There are many other companies which are also in Spanish, yet Univisión somehow continues to outpace them. So it can’t just be about the language. I’m convinced that Univision’s success is really due to the fact that their creative people do a better job of delivering content that connects with the Latino Identity of their 18 million viewers.
But there are more than 18 million Hispanics in this country and the question is: Do we ignore the other 27 million Latinos or do we revisit the way we define our market that so that we can exponentially affect the growth of your brands?
So with this thought in mind, AHAA took language…Spanish and English…out of the equation, and asked, "If you take language out of the equation, is a Latino still Latino? And if so... Just what is it that makes a Latino Latino?" We have looked at the Hispanic consumer landscape and realized that something here isn’t working the best it can. We are not connecting with Latino consumers because we are not speaking their language. The language I’m talking about, however, is not a language in the linguistic sense. It is a deeper, much more sophisticated and nuanced way of communicating and connecting with Latino consumers today … and in the future.
AHAA’s Latino Identity Project gathered some of the brightest minds from our industry…planners from agencies such as WingLatino, Lapiz, The Vidal Partnership, Casanova Pendrill, Zubi Advertising and my own agency, cruz/kravetz:IDEAS…we met with experts in cultural identity from leading institutions such as Stanford, NYU and Florida State University ... and, with the assistance of two PhD candidates, we reviewed nearly 40 years of academic literature on issues of identity and culture, digging deep into psychology, anthropology, linguistics, healthcare, education, sociology, management and the arts.
What is curious is that ALL the academic research AND the depth of expertise and insight provided by our group of planners reached essentially the same set of conclusions!
One. Neither language nor acculturation is singly the true marker of Latino Identity. They may be the consistent measures that have been available to us up to now, but their simple presence is NOT what makes a Latino, Latino.
Two. While there are qualities of Latino cultural identity that may be familiar to us…things like collectivism, familismo, or simpatia…. it’s the interconnectedness, and not the simple presence, of these attributes that challenges our conventional view of what makes a Latino, Latino.
Three. Additional factors such as acculturation, ethnic pride, language preference and socioeconomic level that we thought DEFINED Latino Cultural Identity are, in fact, CONTEXTUAL, and not defining, factors in our new hypothesis of Latino Identity.
The work of the Latino Identity Project has resulted in a profound shift in the way we look at the things that make us us. As a result, we are also redefining the way in which marketers must reach out to Latino consumers. It is compelling and exciting work.
The premise is fairly straightforward. Latino identity is as complex and, perhaps, as fragmented as the general market.
One would not define all American consumers across the nation with a one or two dimensional segmentation model so why should it be acceptable to do so for Latino consumers?
So comprehensive and nuanced is Latino Identity that only specialized Latino agencies are prepared to understand and unearth it. From our research review we have arrived at a new hypothesis of Latino Cultural Identity and it is this:
Latino Cultural Identity is NOT confined to language and acculturation. Rather, at the heart of Latino Cultural Identity is set of complex, adaptable, intricate and interrelated values…
….that change through time according to the environment and to external stimuli. It is complex, but not complicated. And language and acculturation have a role, but it is only a supporting role.
There are two parts to our new hypothesis of Latino Cultural Identity.
And a set of contextual factors that interact with and continuously reshape the Heart
If the heart is the core of Latino Identity, then the four chambers responsible for its functioning are:
- Interpersonal Orientation
- Time and Space Perception
- Gender Perception
Let’s break these down.
Interpersonal Orientation is the way we live our relationships with other people and it is a dimension of Latino Identity that is radically different from that of non-Latinos. Our Interpersonal Orientation is made up of
- Power distance
- Polymorphic leadership
- Simpatia and Harmony
Compare this to one of the key non-Latino American core values, individualism, in which equality, self-development, and self expression take precedence over key values for Latinos such as cooperation and cooperative approaches, and familial needs vs. individual needs. Ours is a collectivist culture in which the goals and interests of the group are emphasized over those of individual members.
Our Interpersonal Orientation also drives our acceptance and giving of authority, our dependent relationships, our communication style, and our relaxed sense of privacy.
Among the implications for marketers are
- Understanding the family as a unit
- Understanding group decision making
- Alleviating the conflict between individual needs and group expectations
- Using experts as messengers, and
- Offering strategies to maintain harmony, even in conflict.
Our next dimension of Latino identity is Time and Space Perception.
It’s no secret that US Latinos have a particular way of perceiving time and space, which is different from the way non-Hispanic Whites do.
We tend to:
- Have longer time horizons
- Be more present and past oriented
- Balance many tasks at one time
- Consider time commitments as more of a goal than real commitments
- Change plans often and easily
- Care about close friends and relatives more than privacy
- Be more involved with each other, interact frequently
- Casually touch each other with ease
This dimension is also radically different from non-Latinos who tend to be monochromic, future oriented, have a rigid sense of space and privacy and be very results oriented.
Marketers may have to think about things like customer service in a different way; they may need to offer more flexible operating schedules; and they should not be hesitant to get close to Latino consumers…literally.
The third area at the heart of Latino identity is Spirituality.
Religion and spirituality influence nearly every aspect of US Latino life, and they affect how Latinos see the world. From Catholicism we acquire Fatalism and External Attribution. Our indigenous roots lead us to believe in curanderismo or in the remedies found in botánicas. Latinos’ relationship with nature gives root to our holistic view of the world, our belief in intuition, our overall sense of health and well-being. And rituals and celebrations are as much a part of a young Latina’s dreams for her quinceañera as they are about abuela’s annual pilgrimage to visit Nuestra Señora de la Divina Providencia.
The view of death that many of us hold is particularly intriguing. Octavio Paz, when explaining El Dia de Los Muertos, wrote, “Undaunted by death, the Mexican has no qualms about getting up close and personal with it…He chases after death, mocks it, courts it, hugs it.”
By contrast, non-Latinos tend to be driven by a more rational, scientific orientation.
To connect with Latino consumers, then, marketers may have to use more holistic persuasion techniques that take into account more sensorial and emotional aspects; and work toward alleviating guilt, embarrassment or fear.
Finally, we come to the fourth and final element at the heart of Latino Identity: Gender Perception.
Traditional gender roles continue to affect how US Latinos perceive the world, and thus themselves, even as these gender roles shift over time.
Machismo has both positive and negative aspects. On the plus side, machismo is about honor and respect. It is about protection of the family and feeling obligated to provide. On the minus side, it can manifest itself as aggressiveness or cause shame if a male feels he cannot live up to his role. It also creates a peculiar dichotomy in their view of women: they are seen as either the perfect, saintly mother or as an object of conquest.
Marianismo, which is named after the cult of the Virgin Mary, is at once about the moral superiority of women and the taking of submissive roles. On the one hand, the matriarch rules the extended family. On the other hand, she is a martyr, taking upon herself the blame for the failings of those close to her. Marianismo is about sacred duty, self-sacrifice and chastity… I must, however, point out that these values are quickly shifting for the young women of Latina Power today.
Gender roles in our Latino world are also radically different from non-Latinos who tend to practice, or at least profess to practice, gender equality.
These differences obviously impact the approach marketers would take communicating with Latinos. They should take care to understand who the decision maker really is in each situation, to emphasize the positive aspects of traditional roles and to attempt to alleviate the stress of role inversion.
What we learned from the academic research I described earlier is that it’s not such so much what UNITES Latinos that’s important, as WHAT MAKES US DIFFERENT FROM NON-LATINOS.
There are two components to AHAA’s new hypothesis of Latino Identity: the heart itself, and a set of contextual factors, which enter the four atria of the Heart, causing them to expand and contract in relation to each other. Latino Cultural Identity is set of complex, adaptable, intricate and interrelated values that change through time according to the environment and to external stimuli. Our hypothesis includes familiar external qualities such as country of origin, education, or immigration stress but it is the interconnectedness, and not the simple presence of these factors that forces us to reconsider what makes a Latino, Latino.
The contextual factors that interact with our heart and why this interaction is key to understanding Latino Identity.
Contextual factors are the things that make us individually unique. They are the things that shape us throughout the course of day or the course of a lifetime. My experience growing up in Mexico is deeply different than that of someone who grew up in East Los Angeles. These differences will significantly alter our Interpersonal Orientation, Time and Space Perception, Spirituality and Gender Perception. Similarly many of you who are Latinos have the ability to be very “American” at work and very “Latino” at home. This is due to the different set of contextual or environmental factors that interact with the heart of our Latino Identity in different places or situations.
The list of contextual factors contains ideas that are certainly familiar to you. Acculturation and language are HERE. This is a significant departure from the way in which we have talked about Latino consumers up to today and it is critical that we understand this because it is in a place deep within the heart that real communication takes place. Ultimately brands, and the things we as advertisers do to grow them, are about emotion and personality.
In his foreword to the book “Lovemarks: the future beyond brands,” P&G’s Lafley … I’m really starting to like this guy….says that in order to establish a lifelong bond with consumers one must think about “mystery, sensuality and intimacy as brand building tools” and that “consumer insights must leverage the power of emotion, respect and love.”
And where do love, emotion and respect reside? In our hearts.
There is a difference between the heart of Latino Identity and the Contextual Factors that play on it. Each one of the heart’s chambers will change as it interacts with these contextual factors, overlapping, magnifying or minimizing its neighbors.
Think about what happens to a Latino’s Interpersonal Orientation when it comes in contact with differing levels of acculturation. What are the consequences of a past and present orientation interconnecting with Fatalism when you’re discussing health care… or life insurance? When perceptions of masculinity and femininity interact with immigration stress, roles are often reversed, children often know more than parents; women may find it easier to get a job than men.
This hypothesis of Latino Identity is a threshold moment for the Hispanic marketing industry because it not only places a premium on the “Who” and the “What” of Latino consumers that Lafley spoke of, it begins to explain the “Why.” And this is very VERY significant.
Latino Identity is complex, fluid, dynamic and ever changing. And this is our new language. The unique ability of specialized Latino agencies to interpret it leads to an understanding of the deep values, beliefs, needs, and desires of Latino consumers.
Our destination? The place where insights that connect deeply with our consumers are born.
Simmons has developed quantitative methodology to validate these findings and to improve the tools we currently employ to better understand and better segment our market. We believe that by shifting the emphasis away from only language and acculturation toward something far more robust, we enhance our understanding of the consumers we are hired to reach and we return to the number one rule of marketing…listen to the consumer.
Latino Identity is not a rejection of the past. It is a natural and fascinating consequence of our growth, sophistication and evolution. This is not about a change of heart; rather it is about the change that is beating deep IN our hearts.