Itati Vasquez Chavez SantaMaria loves her Spanish-language soap operas. “I watch telenovelas all the time,” says the 23-year-old from Tucson Arizona, “I have no shame.” She goes by “Toby” to make it easier for English-speakers.
As a third-generation Mexican person from the Southwest, SantaMaria identifies herself as a Chicana rather than a Mexican, “the way most first-generation immigrants call themselves,” she says. “You’re 100 percent Chicano but that includes that you have been socialized in America and you have had to integrate into American systems while keeping your culture.”
That makes her “hypercultural” according to research by Ipsos Connect. SantaMaria and her U.S. Latino peers have become very powerful shapers of the larger American culture. An Ipsos Cultural Influence study found that a strong majority of U.S. Latino Millennials grew up influenced by both their Latino culture as well as their generational culture as Millennials and other cultures.
First Bicultural Latinos
“Latino multicultural Millennials are the first Latino generation that has truly grown up bicultural. It’s no longer about moving to an end-point of acculturation, says Virginia Lennon, senior vice president of Multicultural at U.S. Ipsos Connect. “Young U.S. Latinos identify with and take pride in the plurality of cultures in their lives. You can’t put them into one universal truth.” She presented these insights with Reny Diaz, vice president of Strategy, Insights and Consumer Development for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, at the recent SXSW 2018.
America’s population has been multicultural for years. Yet many media and marketers still treat this reality as something to come. Maybe it’s because the U.S. isn’t projected to become a minority-majority until about 2044. Babies and children of color already are the majority today, with Hispanic children leading the growth.
Media and advertisers that overlook this dynamic risk alienating the people they’re trying to engage. They must understand what’s influencing biculturals in how they watch, listen, read and buy.
Entertainment as the front line of the culture shift
You really see this in entertainment, says Lennon. For example, black actors Sterling Brown and Donald Glover recently won best actor Emmy awards and a reboot of the 90’s popular witch show “Charmed” with a Latina cast was announced. The consistently top-rated TV shows led by Shonda Rhimes feature multicultural casts. There’s also the runaway success of “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the record-breaking YouTube video of pop song, “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee.
Telemundo has focused on developing franchises that are relevant to a growing multicultural majority in the U.S. “In 2012, there was one show on Telemundo that scaled a multicultural majority audience with over a million adults 18-49 on average. There were none at all on English-language TV,” says Diaz. “Five years later, there are more than 20 major shows with majority multicultural audiences on English-language TV and the top three shows on Spanish language TV with more than a million viewers between ages 18 to 49 are Telemundo’s.”
“We’re making sure we present characters that people represent and encounter in their own lives,” says Diaz. “Our audiences give us credit for redefining that relevance.”
Room for improvement
Viewer SantaMaria credits the Spanish-language networks for doing a better job of representing Latino life today. Still, she doesn’t yet see herself in English-spoken American shows, even in Latino programs that are adapted for mass audiences. There, women often look less like Afro-Latinas or Indigenous Latinas than “off-brand Italian ladies,” she says, using a description she picked up on Twitter.
Spanish-language television is one of the strongest connectors to culture. But it does not mean that a more general market ad in Spanish will likely be more effective among biculturals, says Lennon. “Without cultural relevance or construct you are limiting the engagement all U.S. Latinos will have with your brand messaging.”
Indeed, short cuts like a soccer ball and 6th grade Spanish don’t resonate with SantaMaria. “Advertisers and people who make media in general I feel reach for the easiest thing that they themselves recognize,” says SantaMaria.
“If you want to sell me coffee, then the little kid (in the ad) better be dipping conchitas in it, or you put that we hold our toothbrush in that little plastic cup with ice cold water in it. If the abuelo (grandfather) is talking in Spanish and the kid responds in English, that’s real for bicultural Latinx.”