DO YOU KNOW WHAT LATINOS REALLY VALUE?
On several occasions now (including a few weeks ago on this blog), I have written about my frustration that, when it comes to Latinas, companies tend to focus on only one of our qualities: Our devotion to family.
This isn’t to say that devotion isn’t a real thing, or that we don’t value our roles as mothers and abuelas, tías and sisters. But this kind of attention means that another equally profound Latina characteristic gets overlooked: the value we place on hard work.
And so I was thrilled to see this recent New York Times story on Mary Ruiz, a 9-year-old Latina who happens to be one of the top sellers of Girl Scout cookies in the entire country!
“She doesn’t have a lot of the other things that other kids have unless she’s earned them,” her mother is quoted as saying. “And I think she gets much more satisfaction out of that and takes great pride in owning them when she has worked for them.”
Pride. Satisfaction in a job well-done. A respect for having to earn things, instead of feeling entitled to them. These sentiments resounded deeply for me as being among the hallmarks of what growing up Latino is all about.
Yet all too often, Latinos are derided as people who “want things” without contributing anything in return, as Bill O’Reilly complained bitterly after the 2012 Presidential election.
To think this way is not only ignorant (just ask Mary Ruiz!), it’s detrimental to all of us as we try to move the country forward. After all, as the Latino leaders I recently brought together for a roundtable discussion with Parade magazine repeatedly emphasized, the values Latino cherish most—community, faith, courage—are inherently American values.
Want to speak to Latinos? Start by speaking to that.
4 THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN IDENTIFYING LATINOS … WHO MIGHT ACTUALLY PREFER TO BE CALLED HISPANICS
A recent article in The Economist that asked, "How Should America Count Hispanics?" , reminded me of the last consulting project I was on, where one of the staffers pulled me aside and asked, “Okay: Tell me the truth. Can I really use the words ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ interchangeably?”
He was embarrassed not to already know the answer—but I quickly assured him he shouldn’t be. After all, there has yet to be a consensus on the issue, and it isn’t just the American government that’s struggling with the question, but Latinos themselves.
This struggle highlights the inherent complexities not only in identifying the Latino (or, as some people prefer to call it, the U.S. Hispanic) market, but also in speaking to this audience. Still, I’ve come up with four basic rules of thumb to help get you started, based on my own years of experience within the editorial market:
1. The word “Latino” is a uniquely American one. What I mean by that is you are ONLY Latino if you live in the United States. If you live in Mexico, you are Mexican. If you live in Cuba, you are Cuban; Bolivia, Bolivian, and so on and so forth.
TO ATTRACT A LATINO AUDIENCE, SPOTLIGHT LATINO TALENT
As I wrote on Jan. 28th, the lack of Latino representation on screen is so appallingly non-existent it’s almost laughable.
Almost. Because—aside from the obvious ridiculousness of not casting actors who make up nearly 20% of the American population—what so often goes overlooked is that Latinos not only LOVE going to the movies, but we also LOVE supporting movies that showcase our myriad talents.
Which is why I was thrilled to see The Hollywood Reporter’s story about how the surprise success of the thriller “Mama” is being widely-attributed to Latino moviegoers, who are turning out in droves to support that film’s Mexican executive producer, Guillermo del Toro.
The studio was smart enough to make del Toro—who, to be clear, wasn’t the film’s star or writer or director, but an exclusively behind-the-scenes player—a prominent part of its marketing campaign, sending him out to promote the film to Latino media outlets.
Seems like an obvious strategy—and yet even in 2013, such a move is somewhat unprecedented. Going forward, however, smart companies should be looking to promote their Latino creative talent as much as possible, as an authentic and inspiring point of connection with American Hispanics.
STOP COMPARING ME TO FOOD —AND 3 OTHER CLICHES I HATE
I was swiping through the NY Post on my iPad this morning when I stopped on its just-out spring fashion magazine, Alexa. What caught my attention? The editors’ laughably-bad attempt at Spanglish that relied on every outdated, overused phrase, including …
1. On the cover: “Spring gets spicy with caliente couture.” I am not a food, so please stop using descriptive phrases that make me sound like one. (Although perhaps I should be relieved they didn’t go a step further and throw in a reference to a chili pepper or a tamale.)
2. In the first sentence: “Livin’ la vida Latin.” Uh, if you’re going to go the route of paraphrasing a cheesy song lyric, why not at least pick one from the last six months? Like, say, Pitbull’s, “Que no pare la fiesta”? I mean, I will always love Ricky Martin but that song (from 1999!) is as out of fashion as the frosted blonde tips he rocked back then.
3. Repeated references to “flavor” and “heating” things up. Okay, I get it: Latinos are hot. Sizzling. Smokin’. Except there’s a lot more to us than that. Why not try to appeal to some different sensibility instead of pandering to the same-old, same-old?
In 2013, relying on decades-old cliches does nothing to connect or engage with me; in fact, it’s a complete turnoff. Latinos are increasingly influencing every aspect of American life—as evidenced by the spring fashion trends—so why not play up that sense of power instead of writing cringe-inducing copy that comes across like the dorky dad trying to dance to hip hop?
Speaking to a Latino audience isn’t hard—but it does require authenticity. Start by banning the cliches, and you’ll be amazed at the creative connections that emerge.
HISPANIC CHURCHES REACHING OUT—IN ENGLISH
When I took my first job in Latino media, back in 2003, as the Deputy Editor of Latina magazine, there were a lot out of folks out there who didn’t get it: “It’s a magazine aimed at Hispanic women … but it’s not in Spanish?”
Fast forward seven years later, when I returned to Latina as Editorial Director. During that time, the media industry had undergone incredible transformation—the rise of digital and social media, approaching magazines like brands—and yet the response from corporate America was still the same: “Wait, wait, wait—it’s a company for Hispanic women … and none of your content is in Spanish?”
Which is why I was so thrilled to see this beautiful story in last week’s Washington Post, that takes a look at what I have been trying to explain for so many years: As America moves forward, and the Latino population grows, speaking to us is not going to be done in Spanish, but IN ENGLISH. And so if you want to get my business, you’re going to have to reach me by reflecting some other aspect of my culture.
The WaPo story illustrates this beautifully by taking a look at Hispanic churches, which originally built their congregations by offering services in Spanish. Now that those congregants are old enough to have teenage children—children who were born here and grew up speaking English as their first language, as so many Latinos now do—the Hispanic churches are losing appeal among these young parishioners.
The solution? Translate the Spanish-language services INTO ENGLISH!
Now, direct translation doesn’t always work. But these Hispanic churches have an advantage in that they already offer the cultural touchstones Latino teens know and love. (As one young man put it, “I feel like Spanish church has more energy.”)
In other words, Hispanic churches had already been speaking to their congregants in the right cultural language. Now they are increasingly speaking to them in the right spoken language as well … and it’s English.
TWO THINGS ADVERTISERS GOT RIGHT FOR SUPER BOWL 47
As media pundits debate the pros and cons of Clydesdales and kisses, animals and Odenkirk, I watched the Super Bowl commercials through a Latino filter wanting to see if corporate America had finally decided this was the year they directly acknowledged this country’s seismic demographic shift.
And the answer is … not really. As an excellent NY Times piece points out, this year’s crop of ads seemed to reflect an America of a different time—the 1950s, perhaps, when the pop culture zeitgeist involved disapproving mother-in-laws and kids going to the prom. No wonder then that there were few attempts to reflect our increasingly multicultural society, and the Latino threads that run through it.
Still, I was pleased enough about a couple of trends to declare some progress:
1) Commercials with well-liked Latina stars. One of my favorite spots was the M&Ms bit built around Glee’s Naya Rivera, in which, among other things, the red M&M refused to get into a piñata. (I can’t blame him!)
The numbers don’t lie: Latinas love beauty products. Not only do we spend more money on our hair, nails and skin than any other group of American women, we also increase that amount the older we get—even as our peers start cutting back.
So I am constantly amazed that beauty companies don’t do more to target the specific needs and concerns of Latinas beyond having, say, Eva Longoria or Eva Mendes as a spokeswoman.
I was reminded of this before a recent TV appearance on Joy Behar: Say Anything! and had a bad case of the baby hairs. You know what I’m talking about: those annoying little wisps along the hairline that many a Latina, even Jennifer Lopez, struggle to style:
Little did I know I was about to be introduced to a product that would change my life: The John Frieda Full Repair Touch-Up Flyaway Tamer.
With just a few quick swipes of the mascara-like wand, the show’s makeup artist not only pushed my baby hairs back up and off my face, she calmed down all the flyaways on the top of my head, too. I was so amazed I went straight from the set to the drugstore, and have been using this beauty miracle worker every day since.
So until John Frieda rolls out a marketing campaign in San Antonio or shoots a commercial up in Washington Heights, I figured I’d start spreading the word!
There was a front-page New York Times story recently about how the Latina birth rate is slowing down, which addressed this development from a cultural perspective—as in, why are Latinas not having as many kids as they used to? To me, however, this was old news; in fact, I first wrote about this trend almost 18 months before the Times in a post for The Huffington Post called The Myth of the Latina Mami.
Clearly, however, we are only in the early stages of this trend—a trend that has profound implications for corporate America. After all, for far too long the number one strategy for companies trying to reach Latinas has been to speak to us as moms (which, don’t get me wrong, many of us are).
But there are some really powerful insights to be gleaned from the information that Latinas are having fewer children—namely, that more of us are going to college, pursuing careers and leading independent lives, just like the women I brought together for a recent roundtable discussion with Parade magazine. How to reach these women, who want to be pitched smartphones instead of diapers, social networks instead of play dates, designer instead of maternity clothes? Start by:
- Giving us technology that improves our lives. Latinas are hungry for resources that will help us get ahead.
- Increasing our access to capital. Latina entrepreneurs are opening their own businesses at a rate six times that of the national average.
- Providing role models and mentors. The younger generation needs images of and interaction with doctors and lawyers, teachers and executives.
By investing in us as women, not just as mothers, you invest in the future CEOs of American companies and American households.
One of the most common questions I’m asked—by everyone from marketing heads to CEOs, ad gurus to media execs—is, “How can I do a better job of reaching Latinos?”
My answer is always the same: “The best way to start,” I say, “is by showing more images of us.”
Sounds simple, right? Yet as last night’s SAG Awards reminded me, the push for greater Latino representation across all walks of life remains a huge challenge: Of the 50 stars up for individual trophies, only three—Javier Bardem, Louis CK, and Sofia Vergara—are Latino.
That’s a paltry 6% at a time when Latinos represent nearly 17% of the American population.
Appalling, yes—especially when there are such easy ways to spotlight Latinos on screens large and small. Here are two obvious examples:
1) Let Latino hero Tony Mendez—whose story is so brilliantly captured in Argo—be portrayed by … a Latino. Nothing against Ben Affleck, whom I respect and admire, but what hope is there for greater onscreen diversity if Hispanic actors can’t even get cast as Hispanic characters?
2) Let The Impossible, a film about a Spanish family who survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, actually be about … a Spanish family. Again, Naomi Watts is a wonderful actress, but why couldn’t Penélope Cruz or Paz Vega have starred in María Belón’s real-life tale of survival?
The lesson to be learned is this: If you want to start speaking Latina, you have to learn the language the same way you would anything else—by starting with the basics.