A report this past month from the Pew Hispanic Center states that neither of the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” has been fully embraced by individuals of… well… Hispanic or Latino origin. While this may not be new news to those of us who belong or work within Latino populations, the report indicates challenges many brands and marketers face in trying to connect with Hispanic demographics. According to the report, half of Latinos identify more strongly with their respective country of origin (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, etc.) rather than a pan-Latino identity. Is this the end of Hispanic marketing? Not really. The answer, however, may be much more complicated.
The Pew Hispanic Center reported these key findings about Hispanic/Latino identity:
- Most Hispanics/Latinos prefer their family’s country of origin to pan-ethnic terms.
- Most have no preference for the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino”, but among those who do, “Hispanic” is preferred.
- Most Hispanics do not see a shared common culture among U.S. Hispanics.
- Most Latinos are split on whether they see themselves as a typical American.
- Most Hispanics do not see themselves fitting into the standard racial categories, such as those used by the U.S. Census Bureau.
With regard to racial categories, it is also worth noting the report stated half (51%) of Latinos identify their race as “some other race” or volunteer “Hispanic/Latino”, 36% identify their race as white, and 3% say their race is black. The truth is, Hispanics and Latinos are not a race but an ethnicity. Hispanics can be of indigenous Native American, Spanish European, African or a mix of these and many other backgrounds. For a society like ours in the U.S. – one that places emphasis on racial identification – these insights may fly in the face of some conventional wisdom. For example, if 35% of Latinos identify themselves as “white”, how can we effectively measure race and ethnicity for the purpose of initiatives like affirmative action? Obviously, it is not just marketers who are challenged in targeting these growing and evolving communities.
The question, however, remains: is there a pan ethnic Hispanic or Latino identity? David R. Morse, author and multicultural marketing strategist, suggests yes. Morse points out among the Pew Hispanic Center’s findings, 95% of Hispanics believe it is important for future generations to speak Spanish and 75% of Latinos believe in the efficacy of hard work. He believes these statistics indicate there are common Hispanic values and ideals. While I observe many Latino communities existing within their respective nationalities, I do see a representation of individuals and families coming together on occasion to rally around relevant social causes and common business needs. Also, from my observations, younger and more acculturated Hispanics tend to be more open with embracing certain aspects of Latino unity. Should marketers pay attention to the implications of these types of ethnographic insights too? They certainly should.
For brands and marketers, what I think is important to realize is that Hispanics and Latinos can be – as coined by educator and consultant Miguel Corona – a moving target. Campaigns looking for a “formula” to target all or even a particular Hispanic subgroup will need to continue to do their homework. Although demographics have been the foundation of many marketing efforts in the recent past, brand communication strategies require an empathetic understanding of their audiences. Understanding how we perceive an individual in the world is not nearly important as understanding how an individual perceives him or herself in the world. Yes, Hispanic marketing will continue to exist. Just don’t expect the rules to remain the same.