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Guest Voz: Media adapts to growing English-speaking Hispanic audience

By Abraham Morales
SE2 The Megaphone

I recently shared with a fellow Hispanic marketing professional this NPR story about how Hispanic media outlets are adapting to serve a Latino audience that is increasingly bilingual and bi-cultural.

Robert Rodriguez is one of the co-founders of a new network targeting English-speaking Latinos.

She responded, “Well, I think my years in this industry are numbered.”

She was reacting to some of the statistics from the story: Only about a fifth of the U.S. Hispanic population prefers Spanish-language programming on TV, while the rest are bilingual or prefer English.

But does this really signal the end of Spanish-language advertising? My take on these numbers is a little different:

The glass is still half full because most Hispanics in the U.S. speak some Spanish (meaning, they either are monolingual Spanish speakers or bilingual). According to Nielsen and the Pew Hispanic Center, more than three-quarters of Latinos speak some Spanish and about a third of all Hispanics are bilingual. Let’s remember that being bilingual doesn’t mean you need to choose English over Spanish, or the other way around, but that you could go either way. In other words, language preference and proficiency plays an important factor in the conversation. Industry experts in consumer behavior have made the case that bilingual Hispanics respond better to advertising when it is in Spanish.

But what’s more, this story draws attention to an important reality: the need to adapt. For those communicating with the Latino audience, the old model of translating some or all of your communications or marketing efforts into Spanish and running a few ads in Spanish TV, radio and print outlets is no longer sufficient. To adapt to the new reality is to start thinking in two languages, and a combination of both, to reach out one diverse culture. As you probably know, Hispanics were living in Colorado long before our state joined the Union and many new immigrants have moved here in recent decades. This creates two distinct communities in terms of language, but a similar one in terms of culture and some traditions. So the question is how can you effectively talk to both communities? I believe the answer lies in developing unique messages and content tailored to the Latino community and then delivering that content in English and Spanish, and sometimes a combination of both, to acknowledge the nuance of language preference. Bilingualism should not limit us; rather it’s an opportunity to expand our horizon.

Adapting also includes taking advantage of the new and cost-efficient channels that reach Latinos in both languages. Those include direct mail, texting campaigns, Facebook, event sponsorship, and making sure your website is optimized for mobile access (because many Hispanics access the Internet predominantly through smart phones).

The Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision are not going anywhere, but they are starting to share more of the market not only with new Spanish-language programming (such as MundoFOX, which officially launched a couple weeks ago) but also with English-language networks offering content for Latinos.

The changes at the network level are evidence of the new reality we discussed above. While changes will continue to take place, this much is clear: More Latinos are tuning to more diverse programming. Fox News Latino, YouTube’s Mitú, NBCLatino, Mund2, Nuvo TV, MTV tr3s, and more to come, are just some of the new generation of English-language programming tailored to Latinos. It is not a coincidence that Univision itself started a news partnership with ABC News for an upcoming cable network with 24/7 news in English.

Once you understand some fundamentals about this important part of the population, you start to recognize that it not only makes sense to include it in your communications strategies, but you also start to realize that one size simply can’t fit all. Communicating with Hispanics today goes beyond translating content. Sometimes your message will need to be in Spanish, sometimes in English (with cultural-relevant content), and sometimes a combination of both. Learning to adapt is part of the new reality.

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