I have a product to sell...Now what?
Consumerism is so deeply interwoven into the fabric of American culture that many of us rarely question how products get on shelves. Seldom do we stop and think about the amount of thought and research that go into marketing the products we see or how we are being targeted ourselves. My first goal in this unit is to make students aware of the fact that marketers and advertisers take many things into account when attempting to sell a product and that getting to know the potential customer is a priority.
With so many products saturating the market, companies have to come up with crafty ways to differentiate their goods and get people to become loyal customers. Marketers know that consumers are more likely to be triggered to buy something through emotions rather than through logic, so getting to know the desires and fears of the target audience is essential. Research is conducted by various marketing companies to determine who the potential customers are, what their desires and concerns are and how to reach such audiences in order to make a profit. Because the purpose of marketing is to "facilitate [the] exchange between company and consumer,"
presenting the products to the public in a manner that would solicit a positive (ie. profitable) response is essential. This unit will introduce students to the type of work that marketers and advertisers do and will explain the importance of such work, allowing them to look at advertisements with a more critical eye.
As inhabitants of a consumer society, we are constantly bombarded with images or sounds that attempt to persuade us to purchase something. From television and radio to billboards and the internet, we constantly see and hear advertisements for an assortment of products. Many times we overlook the fact that advertising campaigns are carefully designed to trigger our emotions and entice us to spend our money. The research done by marketing companies is valuable to advertisers who want to make sure they are catering to their target demographic. Since my students will be required to present an advertisement for Latinos, it will be important for them to understand the habits and practices of this particular group of consumers. But first they must identify their market. Exactly who is Latino/Hispanic and how does one access this group?
Identity: The Creation of the Latino Category
One of the first things that students learn as part of the Spanish language curriculum is that there are 21 countries that identify Spanish as the (or as an) official language. Students see the Spanish-speaking world on maps and find that these countries are found in many different geographical locations: North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and even Africa. Students hear me speak Spanish and when they compare my accent to that of Spanish-speakers from other countries, they notice that we don't all speak the same way and that each country has its own accent and colloquialisms. In class we constantly compare the cultural traditions of these various countries and while there are often many similarities, students also begin to see that in spite of a common language, Spanish-speakers are not at all the same. So how is it that we came to identify all of these very different people as Hispanic or Latino? In order to answer this question we must first look back to the growth and impact of Spanish language television, and secondly to the 1970 US census.
In the 1960's, independent brokers began buying airtime from English TV stations to broadcast to Spanish-speaking audiences during off-peak hours. Although promotions geared specifically toward Hispanics had already been taking place at a local level through radio and advertisements placed in Hispanic owned stores, reaching a larger, nationwide audience would obviously require a more powerful medium: television. Targeting TV stations in cities with high Hispanic/Latino populations seemed perfect, but eventually Mexican entrepreneurs bought out entire TV stations to ensure that they had total control over programming. While the creation of Spanish language television was the first step in showing that the Hispanic/Latino population was worth paying attention to in America, it also provided the "basis for the conceptualization of Hispanics as a nationwide community, linked and imagined by the networks."
The creation of Spanish TV networks helped to link the Hispanic/Latino community through language. Programming on Spanish television was initially imported from Mexico and Latin America and despite cultural variations, it was geared toward all Spanish-speakers in the US. The networks implied that since all Spanish-speakers shared the most important characteristics (namely language and culture) they could be reached in a "one size fits all" way. Spanish networks helped make people think of Spanish-speakers as a homogenous group, but it was the 1970 US census that was responsible for institutionalizing a category for people of Spanish or Latin American decent and making Hispanic a widely used term for ethnic grouping. A question that had not been on the census prior to 1970 was one that would eventually place many Spanish-speakers together. Whether the person was from Mexico, Cuba or any other number of Spanish-speaking countries, they would all be able to check an answer off in question 13b of the 1970 census which asked: "Is this person's origin or descent (fill in one circle) Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, Other Spanish or No, none of the above."
By 1980 the US census changed the wording of the question, which appeared even earlier in the questionnaire at number 7. The question now read: "Is this person of Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent? (Fill one circle), No (not Spanish/Hispanic), Yes (Mexican, Mexican Amer, Chicano), Yes (Puerto Rican), Yes (Cuban), Yes, (other Spanish/Hispanic)" and added the following definition:"A person is of Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent if the person identifies his or her ancestry with one of the listed groups, that is, Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc. Origin or descent (ancestry) may be viewed as the nationality group, the lineage, or country in which the person or the person's parents or ancestors were born."
The change in language created a category that was more inclusive and resulted in "a 53 percent increase in the number of people who categorized themselves as Hispanic".
Clearly, Spanish-speakers were becoming more comfortable identifying with the Hispanic label. Interestingly, the census itself has changed over the years, almost as if to underscore the importance of people identifying with the Hispanic/Latino/Spanish group first. From the introduction of the (more limited) category in the 1970 census up through the 1990 census, the question of Hispanic origin came after the question of race; however, since 2000, the census has asked the question of Hispanic descent before the question of race. So who exactly is Hispanic?
Who is Hispanic/Latino?
As an American-born woman of Puerto Rican descent, my immersion in both cultures never left me with questions of identity. I was raised speaking both English and Spanish, and although I grew up in New Haven, CT, I would go to Puerto Rico every summer to visit relatives and see the island. Despite the fact that I am American by nationality, I definitely identify as Puerto Rican. At home my meals consisted of rice and beans, the music most likely to be heard in my house was salsa and when my mother was mad at me, she yelled in Spanish. For me, being a Puerto Rican in America has always been normal, so I checked the box marked 'yes, Puerto Rican' on the US census without even thinking. But as a fair skinned Puerto Rican, am I also white? According to the census, my skin color would require me to identify my race as white, but this to me seemed completely foreign. American, yes, but white? The term was too loaded for me to accept as a part of my identity and so I marked Other and filled in Latino as my race. I am not alone. According to Arlene Dávila, a "great percentage of Latinos...selected 'some other race' in the last US census [which] has been interpreted as a sign that Latino ethnicity has been racialized and that Latinos see themselves as a distinct race beyond black, white and Asian."
Since the term Hispanic consolidates people from Spanish or Latin American backgrounds, the racial and linguistic make up of such people is irrelevant when forming this grouping. But what about would be Latinos who identify on the basis of race as opposed to ethnicity? In Paraguay, Spanish is one of the national languages along with Guaraní. The Guaraní people are descendants of indigenous peoples of South America and many do not speak Spanish; however, if a Guaraní came to the US he could fall under the category of Hispanic since he would be of Paraguayan decent. A dark-skinned Puerto Rican who speaks no Spanish and was never taught about Puerto Rican culture could avoid labeling himself as Latino and refer solely to his racial grouping when identifying himself. Instances such as these make it difficult to define exactly who fits under the category Hispanic.
Hispanics speak Spanish and they don't, they are black and white and Indian, they are US and foreign born. Choosing one's identity is personal despite the fact we are all labeled by others. There is no doubt that the creation of the Hispanic label has made many of us think about ethnicity before race and even nationality. Today, Hispanics between the ages of 16 and 34 "are more likely to identify themselves first as Mexican or Puerto Rican or Cuban, second as Hispanic, and only third as American."
The Emergence of the Hispanic/Latino Market
With both Spanish TV networks and the US Census promoting Latinos as a "'nation within a nation,' with a uniquely distinct culture, ethos, and language" Dávila implied that there were "basic differences between Latinos and other consumers that need[ed] to be addressed through culture-- and language-- specific marketing."
Segmented marketing became the way to access this growing population that was so distinct from mainstream society. With so many quality goods saturating the market, customers could no longer easily differentiate between products, and industry leaders realized that the only way to hook customers, according to sociologist Marilyn Halter, was to make "the sell an emotional one and this means an appeal to the home turf or the cultural background of the consumer."
The idea of finding comfort within ones ethnic roots was not only taking place in the consumer sector, but even in government. In 1974 Congress passed the Ethnic Heritage Act, and government funding was provided to expose people to the cultures and traditions of various ethnic groups found in the United States. Indeed, it seemed a time to become connected with ancestral ties, providing further impetus to the growth of ethnic marketing.
The formation and acceptance of the all-encompassing subgroup 'Hispanic' had great ramifications in the consumer world. Placing Hispanics together increased their buying power and it also encouraged marketers to think that all varieties of Hispanics/Latinos could be targeted as a homogenous group. With the US census now having people identify themselves as Hispanics, advertisers could easily see that this population was on the rise and could figure out exactly where to spend their money in order to reach these people. The census allowed advertisers to see where Hispanics were concentrated and Spanish TV networks would provide a perfect medium to reach this "untapped" market. Learning how to market to Hispanics/Latinos became a priority to companies who wanted to benefit from this population whose annual purchasing power was estimated at $212 billion in 1990.
Naturally, Hispanic marketing agencies sprouted up to help assist companies in reaching the Latino market.
The Homogenizing Effect
The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA) was formed in 1997 to help strengthen the Hispanic marketing industry. The Agency conducts research studies to learn the consumer habits of Spanish-speaking consumers and uses these results to convince companies to invest in this profitable market. For example, one AHAA study revealed that Hispanics spend more on telephone services, information that was surely passed on to companies providing such services. Not surprisingly, AT&T and Verizon Communications were the 3rd and 4th top advertisers respectively in Hispanic media in 2009.
Prior to the creation of agencies like the AHAA, the first generation of Hispanic advertisers, who were mostly Cuban, did not conduct market studies. Rather, as Arlene Dávila writes, they created characterizations for Hispanics by drawing on "the basis of their own instincts and experiences, and were rarely supported by research."
The generalizations these early marketers made about Hispanics were not questioned by companies and were seen as authentic, since they themselves spoke Spanish and were Hispanic. These early Cuban marketers began portraying all Hispanics in their own image, as "family-oriented, Catholic, traditional, conservative, immigrant and Spanish-speaking," a profile of Hispanics as consumers that is still intact.
Such a profile not only overlooks the racial, religious and national differences among Latinos, but also ignores generational differences. For example, as a first-generation American born to two Puerto Rican parents, my preferences and ideas about identity and social values vary greatly from my parents' because of this difference.
Creating an ideal image of all Hispanics that fit within the norms of American culture was important in getting major companies to invest in the emerging Hispanic market. Today, however, with a purchasing power of $489 billion in 2009, it is no surprise that all major companies want a piece of the "Hispanic" market. Companies no longer need to be persuaded to spend money on advertising for this group, but they still need to learn how to reach them despite their internal variety. What is of interest is how marketers have been able to change the Latino identity to satisfy corporate needs while always maintaining a homogenizing effect. Dávila concludes:
"It is…through statistics and market reviews-attesting that Hispanics are highly informed shoppers,
or else gullible and extremely loyal to particular brands, or traditional, or hip and urban, according
to the needs of the corporate client-that this population is continually stereotyped and constituted
into an undifferentiated Hispanic consumer"
The Latinization of America
The Hispanic/Latino category is obviously here to stay. Spanish TV networks have continuously provided a nationwide media outlet to reach this population and advertisers constantly look at marketing firms to help with the creation of campaigns geared toward this market. With their massive purchasing power, Latinos definitely changed American consumer society, and there is no doubt that American culture in general has also been deeply altered by the growing presence of Hispanics.
The Hispanic presence in the US is one that can be accessed through all of our senses. The Latinization of America can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched! Latinos are seen on TV and magazine covers, their music heard on radio and in music videos. Latino foods can be smelled and tasted in restaurants ranging from fast-food to the most elegant and found in the aisles of even the most anglicized supermarkets. The growing Latino population, coupled with their purchasing power, has resulted in companies finding ways to accommodate and integrate this demographic into mainstream American culture.
Television powerhouses like HBO, Showtime and Nickelodeon have all added Spanish-language programming and/or translations to their networks. People magazine added a Spanish counterpart (People en Español) in 1996 to cater to Latinos and in 2000, the music industry also accommodated Latinos by creating the Latin Grammy's. Even more significant than the creation of an award show specifically geared toward Hispanics is the fact that the Latin Grammy's were not simply aired on Hispanic TV networks like Telemundo and Univision. Instead, the show aired on CBS, making it "the first Anglo network in TV history to air a bilingual program."
The reach of Latinization can be seen on a smaller scale also. When I called the national passport center, I was prompted to press 2 if I preferred to hear the recording in Spanish. All parental notifications from my school go out in English and in Spanish and the cafeteria menu includes meal choices such as tacos and fajitas. Today, all students have learned some Spanish from Dora, heard of reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee, and they could probably identify Jennifer Lopez and Shakira if they were in a line-up. All around them, their world is illustrating a change that provides evidence for the Latinization of America. Indeed, learning the language and cultural traditions of Latinos and how to relate to them could only be beneficial.