Written By Jennifer Caroccio
How can marketers and researchers fully engage the ever-growing US Latinx population? According to a NERA report,the Latino population increased to 57 million in 2015, constituting about 17% of the nation’s total population. Per a 2016 Nielsen report, Latinx buying power in 2015 swelled to 1.3 trillion dollars. The NERA report suggests that US Latinx consumers produce enough GDP that if they were a country they would have the fourteenth largest economy in the world. The Latino Donor Collaborative’s report observed the number of new Latinx entrepreneurs grew higher than other groups from 2002 to 2014. These statistics speak to the significance of Latinx buying power and their strong influence on the US economy.
In considering the sizeable Latinx community, we must view Latinx culture as heterogeneous. Latinxs speak multiple languages (English, Spanish, Nahuatl), and are from various racial, religious and class backgrounds, which means they share commonalities with other non-Latinx groups but have specific cultural characteristics. Understanding these nuances can help marketers avoid cultural mishaps.
In the past, Latinx purchasing affinity was thought to be similar to non-Latinx groups. For example, in their book Hispanic Marketing, Felipe and Betty Ann Korzenny point to two examples where a lack of cultural knowledge led to a failed ad campaign and skewed research data. The first, when producers of Captain Morgan rum assumed their product would be popular with Latinx consumers. However, as the Korzennys observe, to the Latinx focus group, the pirate advertising mascot generated negative associations of colonization and exploitation. In another example, an entertainment survey directed at Latinxs included questions in both English and Spanish, but in translating the phrase “Country music,” the surveyors used the term “Ranchera,” which is already a distinct Mexican-American musical genre. This lack of cultural knowledge resulted in a misreading of how many surveyed Latinxs actually liked country music. Does your brand address the specific historical and cultural context of your audience?
Latinas over the age of 30 are another group that are often overlooked in media research. Dr. Jillian Báez advances the study of Latinas in the media in her book In Search of Belonging. She argues, “media relationships are experienced and interpreted differently according to the life cycle.” This means any advertisement or media must account for not only how gender and race/ethnicity affect the consumer, but also how age does. How older Latinas are portrayed, often as nonsexual, and the predominance of “intergenerational television viewing” via the mother-daughter narratives, as Dr. Báez observes, causes this generational difference in media consumption. Good branding needs to consider and capture the Latina consumer in more complex and nuanced ways, like products for Latinas who are 35 years or older that contribute to their overall wellbeing and not only familial ties. The Netflix show One Day at A Time was renewed for a third season, in part thanks to the support of its large Latinx following. An important part of the show’s success is its complex portrayals of Latinas. Specifically, Justina Machado’s character, Lupe Riera Alvarez, a 35+ army veteran and single parent getting back into the dating game. The iconic Rita Moreno plays the abulita, Lydia Riera, whose character is energetic and written as a romantic interest.
Older Latinxs must not be discounted. According to another Nielsen report, Latinx people 50 years and older are about 10% of the population (11.1 million) and are predicted to increase to 24% (42.1 million) by 2060. That is a large, influential group. Per the report, “Latinos 50+ are at the epicenter of the evolving social and cultural reality of several generations living under one roof.” This speaks to the multi-generational Latinx household, which leads to a cultivation of more income and longer brand loyalty. For example, despite Café Bustelo starting as a Spanish immigrant-owned business, it became a staple in most Latinx homes. Now you’d be hard pressed to not find a can of Bustelo in Latinx or non-Latinx kitchen cabinets. It is now a pop cultural icon, even making an appearance in the popular Netflix show Luke Cage.
As the Latinx community continues to grow, so too does its buying power, and its economic and media influence. Companies and marketing and media researchers must have the cultural fluency (understanding of the language, food, customs, history, geography, etc.) to accurately brand and market their products.
A Nuyorican from Queens, Jennifer Caroccio is a doctoral candidate, poet and writer. She is currently pursuing a PhD in American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. Where her dissertation project focuses on the narrative capabilities of Latinx graphic memoirs and comic biographies as they reclaim a Latinx subjectivity in US cultural production. You can read some of her various work online here: A Boricua Abroad; Review of Reading Lessons in Seeing; and Elevators (for Billy).