Acting On Today’s Latino Zeitgeist

By David A. Chitel (NGLC Chairman & Founder)

Zeitgeist (/_ts_t_g_st/) – Noun – The intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought which typifies and influences the culture of a period.

During my 20-year tenure within the worlds of Latino media, marketing and entertainment, I’ve experienced three distinct periods of zeitgeist as they pertain to our industry. Before reflecting, I’ll point out that clearly there were decades of hard work pre-dating those below led by our industry’s pioneers (shout-outs to Eduardo Caballero, José Manuel Cubas, Daisy Exposito, Tere Zubizarreta, Raul Toraño and countless others) without whom there would be nothing to discuss here. That said, here’s a look at the zeitgeist eras starting with the point where my professional journey began up until the present.

(1990 – 1999) Although e-mail had yet to be embraced by the masses in the early 90’s, there was a sizeable and flourishing U.S. Hispanic advertising sector where several billion dollars a year were being spent to engage mostly Spanish-dominants. During that same era, as the Internet became a viable new advertising medium (at least in perception), a new wave of entrepreneurs and thinking entered into the ethos of our industry. Speaking from firsthand experience, the zeitgeist at the end of the 90’s was palpable. As we rode the Internet “wave” (unbeknownst to us, it was actually a “bubble”), coupled with the momentum of the forthcoming 2000 Census, it felt like anything was possible in the U.S. Hispanic market. In my case, the zeitgeist that capped-off the 90’s gave me the courage to leave my very stable “day job” and start my first company with actor, John Leguizamo, called (later LatCom Communications). It also caused me to start doing what most entrepreneurs do – question EVERYTHING and start BUILDING. What exactly I thought I was “building” is still a mystery, but it just felt right and necessary. Ah, to be twenty-something and full of big ideas, but no real game plan of which to speak.

(2000 – 2009) After surviving the “Y2K meltdown”(or as our industry called it, “Y2QUE?”), we ushered in the new millennium, and with it a new generation of consumers aptly called “millennials,” largely fueled by Latino population growth. As we celebrated the incredible results of the 2000 U.S. Census indicating that over 35MM Hispanics lived in the U.S., what struck me most was that those same numbers also showed that the majority of them (60%) were U.S.-born. It didn’t make sense to me that seemingly the biggest growth opportunity (ie. – directly targeting/spending to engage this new generation of Latinos) wasn’t simultaneously taking flight. Hence, out of the ’00’s zeitgeist came the birth of the New Generation Latino Consortium (NGLC) – an organization whose members all shared one thing in common – a passion to CHANGE the mindset that reaching and engaging U.S. Hispanics required a one size fits all linguistic-based approach. What we didn’t realize when we launched in 2003, was that our industry wasn’t quite ready to embrace our message. We were largely considered outliers although most agreed (often in private) that they too felt the same zeitgeist, but just didn’t know how to act on it. In truth, looking back it was important to have a group like the NGLC in the mix, but it was equally important to accept that the NGL media space was largely uncharted and needed time to come into its own, much in the way Spanish-language media had done in the decades prior. Ah, to be thirty-something and starting to mature somewhat.

(2010 – Present) With another decade under our belt and the 2010 U.S. Census indicating that over 50MM Hispanics now live in America, a new term defining today’s zeitgeist entered into our vernacular. The term “Total Market” (ie. – embracing the entirety of the U.S. Hispanic population, not just a sector of it), is now the most accepted way of which to speak about connecting with the Latino audience. To suggest anything short of a “Total Market” approach is to be considered someone who “doesn’t get it.” It’s no longer out of the proverbial “box” to suggest that there is a thriving bilingual, bicultural and dare I say, English-dominant, group of U.S. Hispanics that merits the advertising, media and entertainment world’s attention and dollars. There are now plenty of NGL media outlets from which to choose, and more still that are Spanish-language focused. A good thing when one considers that still just a fraction of advertising dollars are dedicated to reaching NGLs. But with all of this talk of “Total Market” it still feels as if the zeitgeist is clear and present, yet more action is required in order for our industry to truly walk the walk and not just talk the talk. For our part, the NGLC continues to field research studies and host conferences in an effort to elevate the conversation via C-level executives, celebrities, market influencers and the like. My other venture, NGL Media, is a leading producer and distributor of content for today’s digitally connected Latino audience, tapping into the unlimited potential of video and Latinos’ desire to consume it anywhere and everywhere. But these are just tiny pieces of a very large and complex “Total Market” puzzle that requires further action, dialogue and most importantly, clarity, in order to reach its full potential. ACTING on today’s “Total Market” zeitgeist is what this piece is all about. Ah, to be forty-something with just a little bit of life experience and clout of which to speak.

With that in mind, below is my take on the key areas that we as an industry need to focus on in order to walk the walk, and move the needle going forward. I call them “The 5 Points.” All of these topics will be front and center at this year’s NGLC conferences in NY and LA. My hope for the New Year is that the NGLC can continue to tackle the difficult and thought-provoking questions facing our industry and inspire people to take action. With that, I’ll get off my soapbox and leave it to you to continue reading below.


Evolve Audience Definition & Creative Approaches

o Fine-tune what we mean by “Total Market” and who the NGL audience is. NGL is by no means limited to “Latino youth,” as the audience is often pigeonholed.
o Continue mastering “in-culture” creative beyond simple “casting” to include nuanced triggers such as lifestyle, culture, linguistic references, emotional connections and traditions, while being mindful of not putting NGLs into any one “Latino box.”

Embrace Spanish AND English (and mean it)

o “Total Market” communications plans that include Spanish media, NGL media and “General Market” media speaking to NGL’s lifestyles and interests, reflecting at least 16% of advertisers’ total budgets (or more depending on the category and/or geographical-focus of a particular product or service).
o Accept that NGLs consume a lot of “General Market” media, and craft programming and advertising to address that fact.
o Embrace second screen and companion devices along with “owned” and “earned” media as a means of tailoring content and messaging to different sectors of the “Total Market.”
o Reject the notion of a “Hispanic budget,” and instead push to be an integral part of the “Total budget” driven by business first and ethnicity/race second.

Demand More Sophisticated Measurement Tools

o Store-level data that goes beyond grouping all Hispanics under one umbrella in order to show “Total Market” lift.
o On-air and online metrics that take nativity and length of time living in the U.S. into account, and aren’t solely defined by language.

Participate & Gain Control

o More Latino representation in research, strategic and budgeting conversations at the outset of the marketing and development process.
o More Latinos in C-level positions leading the discussion and driving the decision-making process.

Unify & Leverage Our Voice

o Although there are 20+ different Latino nationalities, there needs to be ONE unified voice in our quest for “fair share” and proper inclusion.
o Corporations, media outlets, agencies, organizations, politicians and influential Latino celebrities need to set a “Latino Media, Marketing & Entertainment Agenda” and drive the message home from every conceivable angle.
o And last but not least, if the 2012 election confirmed one thing it’s that Latinos officially have political clout in the U.S. that must be respected and heard. It’s time to cash in this chip in a big way behind a population of 50MM and growing.

As we leave one year behind and enter into the next, it’s critical to take stock of where we stand as an industry to collectively act on the zeitgeist that is all around us and take control of our future. With that in mind, feel free to express opinions of your own, and perhaps more importantly, think about how you can put them into action.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

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