AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- finding the right language to speak to what is now the nation's largest minority group.
RS: According to the Census Bureau, the United States has 37 million people of Hispanic or Latino origin -- about 13 percent of the population. Hispanic and Latino are both names for people from Spanish-speaking cultures. Marketing consultant David Perez says of those 37 million, about one-third speak Spanish mostly, another third are bilingual; the rest prefer English.
AA: Mr. Perez, whose father is Bolivian, says generally those who prefer English -- like himself -- are born and raised here. Yet he says it's the Spanish speakers who get most of the attention of advertisers. To change that, he's helped start an industry group called the New Generation Latino Consortium.
PEREZ: "Language has always gotten overlaid with the Hispanic market, there was always the assumption, 'Well, it's Spanish language.' And what we as a group have come together to say, well, that's not the only Hispanic market in the U.S. In fact, the largest segment of the Hispanic population in the U.S. is U.S.-born, bilingual or English dominant, and that is a population that has been largely ignored.
RS: David Perez says young people often speak Spanish with their parents, but English with their siblings, friends and co-workers. Then there's something else they speak.
PEREZ: "What is a very American phenomenon -- and this might be interesting to your listeners in South America -- is what we term Spanglish, the use of English and Spanish intertwined into communication. And you see that a lot with Puerto Ricans and people in New York and certainly in Mexican communities out in the Southwest. Many folks in South America really don't like the mixing of the two. They'll either say to you 'speak to me in Spanish or speak to me in English -- don't mix them up.' But yet for the young people it's a real personal expression."
AA: "So let's talk a little bit about how Spanglish and Spanish and English play out in advertising, when companies are trying to reach that 'Hispanic audience' -- and we're talking about obviously people from Mexico to South America to Cuba and elsewhere -- how do they know which language to use and what sort of things do they put together?"
PEREZ: "Well, first you have to start with segmenting your market -- who's the target. If you're trying to reach that middle kind of bilingual person, we've used examples in the past where you can use Spanish words in, say, a print ad -- one or two words in Spanish sprinkled in lets you know, one, we're targeting you and, two, when it's done correctly, really connects more on an emotional level. It's rarely effective to try to force a Spanglish ad. If it's forced, it comes across as inauthentic and phony."
RS: "Now, this marketing could be in newspapers or magazines or on the radio or television -- what are some of the trends that you're seeing?"
PEREZ: "Well, traditionally, when people thought of Hispanic marketing or advertising, it was exclusively in Spanish language media. And the new trend, and part of what the New Generation Latino Consortium is about, is trying to break that mold, which says not all Latinos consume only Spanish language media. And many of these new generation Latinos consume much less Spanish language media -- they're watching MTV and 'The Simpsons' and reading People magazine and all these other types of media properties. So the trend is now to start to use English language media targeted to these Latinos but in a culturally relevant manner."
RS: "Explain that, please."
AA: "Is there an example?"
PEREZ: "Well, one example was the Super Bowl last year -- this year. Levi's ran a spot -- they were introducing a new design of jeans -- and it was this boy walking down the street with these really rubbery looking legs, kind of dancing down the street. It was shot in Mexico. And the soundtrack of the music was Molotov, which is a Mexican alternative rock band. There was very little -- I don't even know if there was any English language voiceover at all, but there was certainly some English copy. But for anybody who's a young Latino, who is of the culture, immediately recognized that that ad was for them."
AA: "Now, does a commercial like that risk alienating people in the audience who are not Latino?"
PEREZ: "Well, again, it wasn't in Spanish, but it was -- the other issue that's happening now is very much, is African American culture has been the key driver of popular culture in America over the last 10 to 15 years. Now Latino culture is really taking that position of being THE popular driver. Everything kind of Latin is hot -- from [actress] Salma Hayek to J. Lo [singer/actress Jennifer Lopez] to [singer] Christina Aguilera to on and on and on, and becoming of interest and popular to mainstream America."
RS: David Perez is president of Lumina Americas, a marketing and consulting firm based in New York. And that's Wordmaster for this week.
AA: Our e-mail address is [email protected] And our programs are on the Web at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
MUSIC: "Beautiful"/Christina Aguilera