Who’s telling our story?

  By Chiqui Cartagena

As millions of Americans fill out the Census questionnaire this month, I can’t help but wonder when the results come out, who in the Hispanic market is going to be leading the charge to tell “Our Story”. If we learned anything from the last Census, it was that we, the “experts” in Hispanic marketing did a rather poor job of telling our story. We were so busy trying to ride the wave of growth (and sign up new clients) that we let the mainstream media dominate the conversation when it mattered most and continue to portray us as one-dimensional, stereotypes that are not fully a part of the American fabric, in spite of Soledad O’Brien’s best efforts last fall with Latino in America on CNN.

The reality is that our Hispanic story is not even part of the mainstream American psyche.  Non-Hispanic Americans don’t spend time thinking about us like we do about them. (Of course, the news organizations have a lot of culpability here, but more on that later). The only thing non-Hispanic Americans think of when they think of Hispanics is: Dancing with the Stars, Cinco de Mayo an Immigration….if we are lucky, maybe some people think about their cleaning lady, nanny or office colleague despite the reality that we live, work, worship and raise our families in every state in the nation. Shame on us!

After the 2000 Census results came out, I had high hopes that AHAA would lead the charge of framing our story. After all, it is our marketing industry association.  But after a good start with the publication of some interesting studies (albeit a bit too self-serving) and the occasional “panel” in the “real” trade conferences, like the AAAA or the ANA, the reality is that we continue to be an afterthought, relegated to the sidelines. Shame on us!

Nowadays, marketers who have not entered the Hispanic market are often “scared away” by the complexity that seems to surround it. Language, acculturation, identity, cultural relevance…we’ve been throwing so many labels and definitions at people that they are legitimately skeptical. Are Hispanics really that different than the rest of the world? No. But it sounded good at the time and the more we wove this tale, the more people were either in awe or simply ran the other way.

Some marketers like P&G, McDonald’s  and Kraft, know what really differentiates us because they have been in this space for over 20 years and, of course, continue to capitalize on our growth as they laugh all the way to the bank! But we owe it to ourselves and to our future as marketing “specialists” to do a much better job of telling our story and that starts by standardizing some definitions that we all use to sell our wares, like acculturation and bilingualism. If we are able to all use the same terms and conduct research using the same standards we will ALL benefit in the future.  Because trust me, when the new Census data comes out, we will once again be scrambling too fast to try to make a buck.

So this is a call out to AHAA and the research companies that we use to conduct research to establish some standardized definitions that we can all use, so that marketers don’t have to constantly second-guess the validity of data that is presented to them, especially data about the younger generations of Latinos who are the future of our market.

For far too long, the story of the Latino market has been dominated by people who prefer to speak and consume media in Spanish and are foreign-born immigrants. As we all know that reality has been changing dramatically over the past decade. I remember the reception David Chitel and Christy Haubegger got at the AHAA conference in San Antonio in 2005 after presenting the first study on younger generation Latinos that showed…gasp…..that they were not watching TV in Spanish! They almost got booed off the stage! After that, David created the New Generation Latino Consortium to create a forum where people could discuss the changes younger Latinos were experiencing and how this would affect our marketing efforts. Well, after several years off the radar screen, I’m happy to see that the NGLC conference is back and I plan to attend again on April 5th in New York City. I understand there are just a few tickets left, so get them if you can. For more information CLICK HERE.

Now back to the news organizations. In spite of the occasional story or series during Hispanic Heritage month, Latino stories and faces are barely present on the news.  In order to be seen as fully part of the American fabric, our stories need to be told more often and not only on news programs like the Today show or 60 minutes, which would – in and of itself – be a big step forward. We also need to be on shows like The View. I mean really, why can’t we have a Latina on The View? We do represent 15% of women out there and I bet we can add a lot of spice and laughs to that conversation…EVERYDAY! Bottom line, our Latino reality only becomes part of the American fabric and psyche by being included every day, not just “covered” once in a while.

Since Obama was elected it’s been great to see how many more African American experts and commentators have been added to just about every news show out there.  And that’s not only great…in fact, it’s long overdue. And it’s great also, because they are not relegated to talking about “black” issues. They are commenting on the economy, on politics, on culture, the whole spectrum of life…and quite honestly the point of view of the African American community is important, but so is the Hispanic POV. So, call me crazy, but I demand equal time!

About the author: Chiqui Cartagena is the SVP of Multicultural Marketing at Story Worldwide. She is also the author of Latino Boom! Everything You Need to Know about the US Hispanic Market (Random House, 2005)

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