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Public Relations Quarterly

Targeting Hispanic Americans

By Linda P Morton

October 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ProQuest Information and Learning, Public Relations Quarterly Fall 2002. All rights reserved. 

Public Relations Quarterly, Page 46

Segmenting Publics

The Hispanic-American population, at 35 million, is larger than the entire population of Canada.1 It increased by 58% between the 1990 and 2000 census to become the fastest growing and largest ethnic group in the nation.2 It's expected that Hispanic Americans will comprise a quarter of the population and will be the largest population group by 2050.3

Most Hispanic Americans (64%) were born in the USA.4 Almost 20 percent of American-born babies are Hispanic.5 By 2030, there will be 16 million Hispanic Americans between the ages of five and 18. They will comprise a quarter of all students.6

The sheer size of this population demands that businesses consider them in marketing, advertising, and public relations programs. However, Hispanic Americans cannot be approached as one homogeneous group because they are composed of people from many countries and cultures.

The three Hispanic countries most represented in America are Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Together these three countries produced almost a third of the Hispanic American population.

Mexican Americans

The Hispanic population is about 75% (13 million) Mexicans who live mostly in the Southwest.' Former Mexican citizens resided in the southwest before the US conquered those lands in the Mexican War. Recently many have left the southwest and settled in the Midwest and Great Lakes region.8

They've been in this nation since the 1800s, but had "limited educational opportunity throughout the 20th century." Most Mexican American schools still lack sufficient resources to provide excellent education.9

Puerto Rican Americans

Shortly after the USA got Puerto Rico from Spain (1898), the Jones Act made its residents US citizens and gave them the freedom to travel between the USA and Puerto Rico. Now 11 percent of Hispanic Americans are of Puerto Rican heritage.10 Many Puerto Ricans have resided in the Northeast - New York, New Jersey, and Chicago - since, but now many have moved to the Midwest and Sunbelt. More than 2.5 million Hispanic Americans originated in Puerto Rico.12

Cuban Americans

The first mass exodus to the USA from Cuba took place immediately following Castro's revolution in 1959. Those immigrants were primarily highly educated professionals, technicians and business people who wanted to escape socialism. The latest wave of Cuban immigrants (since 1979) have been less educated and immigrated for better economic opportunities. Together, these two groups of immigrants comprise five percent of the Hispanic American population 13 and number more than a million. 14

Central and South Americans

The most recent Hispanic American immigrants are from a number of countries in Central and South America. Many have come to the USA to escape the political unrest in their own countries. Together they comprise seven percent of the Hispanic American population,15 numbering more than 2 million people.

Each nationality differs by culture, beliefs, opinions and purchasing decisions. In fact, one study has reported that they even differ in media use, with those originating from Puerto Rico and Cuba watching seven more hours per week of Spanishlanguage television than those from Mexico.16

Hispanics, especially the youth, believe that important differences exist between Hispanics from different countries. They want businesses to note their "cultural, religious and idiomatic differences." Doing so is more basic than composing effective targeted messages, it's necessary to avoid mistakes that can alienate Hispanic publics.17

One expert in multicultural marketing contends that each segment of this population deserves individual attention, saying that "It would be a mistake to pitch a product to a racially mixed Puerto Rican market by using only white Cuban models in a South Florida setting."18

However, Hispanic Americans from most countries share unifying characteristics. Two of the most important are language and religion. Although many are bilingual, most speak Spanish. Although Protestantism is the fastest growing religion among Hispanics, most are Catholics. All segments of this public value family, children, and traditional middle-class values. They want to keep their ethnicity, including holidays, rituals, and festivals. They emphasize aesthetics, emotions and their appearance.

Hispanic-Americans differ from the overall American population: They are younger by seven years with a mean age of 25.5 years;19 their families are larger (3.4 members compared to 2.5), and they are "more likely to have young children."20

They look at work differently than Caucasian Americans, mixing in pleasure throughout their workday rather than working all day before allowing time for pleasure. This has contributed to an incorrect stereotype of Hispanics as unmotivated.21

Hispanic Americans also perceive messages differently than most Americans. They are more likely to believe celebrity endorsements. They respond better to phrases like "new and improved" and "the official" sports choice. However, they believe the world is more complex than it first appears, and they don't believe money-back guarantees.22

Hispanic Americans are less wired than Caucasians: less likely to own computers (41% vs. 65%),less likely to have internet access (41% vs. 69%),23 less likely to use e-mail, and less likely to shop on line. Almost a third express no interest in electronic products.24 They live in inter-generational families that include children, adults and grandparents."

Hispanic Americans spend more than $428 billion annually.26 In1989, Hispanics earned an average income of $21,921. By 1999, Hispanic households annual earnings had increased: 20 percent earned more than $50,000, 15 percent earned between $35,000 and $50,000, and another 15 percent earned between $25,000 and $35,000.27 Yet, a government report states that their "relative economic status ...declined over the past 25 years." This report notes that Cuban Americans have a much higher median family income.28

They respond well to samples, which they consider gifts. Door-to-door sampling is more effective with Hispanics than in-store or newspaper sampling.29

This increase in Hispanic incomes likely came from the 37 percent of Hispanic Americans who immigrated to the USA during the 1990's. Although some came here for economic advancement, other more wealthy immigrants came to escape war and political pressure.30 Overall, two-thirds of adult Hispanic Americans "were born abroad. "31

In 1999, Hispanic teens already made up 13.6 percent of the American teen market. By 2005, this teen market is projected to grow by 25.8 percent compared to 7.3 percent for all American teens.32 It will then be the "largest ethnic youth population in the country. 33 Hispanic teens spend almost eight percent more than average teens, with Hispanic girls spending 50 to 100 percent more on makeup, acne and hair products. Hispanic teens average spending $320 per month. By 2005, Hispanic teens are projected to "account for 17 percent of all teen spending. "34

Two magazines targeting Hispanic youth started business in 1999. Latingirl sought to fill a void for Hispanic girls who had reported that they didn't find pictures of girls that looked like them or articles that dealt with their cultural issues in other teen magazines.35

Another effective means of reaching Hispanic Americans is through direct mail and telemarketing. Nearly 75 percent of them read direct mail, and almost 40 percent want more of it. They are also positive toward telemarketing as long as their names are pronounced correctly, they are given the option of communicating in Spanish, and financial screening processes are discreet.36 Spanish direct mail can be particularly effective because, on average, Spanish speaking Americans receive only ten Spanish direct mail pieces a year.37

The USA is the "fourth largest Spanish speaking country in the world" and is predicted to be the second largest by 2010.38 Even those Hispanics who understand English, get more information from Spanish messages. More than half of immigrant adults cannot understand enough English to accurately decipher English messages. The best approach is to provide bilingual messages.39

This is particularly true for Hispanic youth, who consider bilingualism an important part of their individuality.40 But don't be misled, their bilingualism isn't a process of being assimilated into the American culture. Hispanic youth embrace their language and culture, with more than half of them considering themselves "more Hispanic than American" and another third perceiving themselves as equally grounded in both cultures.

A growing number of Hispanic youth prefer Spanish: 65 percent watch Spanish-language TV and 59 percent listen to Spanish radio.41 In fact, their growing population and youthful cultural pride is creating the opposite of assimilation. Their cultural patterns are being incorporated into American culture.42 This can be seen in music, television programming and other entertainment media.

Although Hispanics have proven to be influential in local, state and national elections, particularly presidential elections, the various Hispanic groups have never united to form a unified voting block. Three factors contribute to this lack of a unified Hispanic political block. First, the youth of the population is correlated with less interest in politics. Second, many legal Hispanics have not yet been naturalized and, thus, are not eligible to vote. Third, Hispanics' higher-than-average poverty rate is correlated with low political participation. Furthermore, many Hispanics believe their votes will not make a difference. They generally distrust politicians due to experiences in their country of origin.43

A political unified voice is also hindered by different political ideologies. For instance, Cuban Americans are inclined to be conservative while Mexican and Puerto Rican Americans are more likely to be liberal. Hispanic Americans do unite behind their support of education and family issues. They also jointly support fair immigration reform, noting that "laws that target illegal immigration" result in "employment discrimination against Hispanic workers." They also unite against laws requiring that English be the official language of state governments because such laws could legally challenge bilingual education.44 They are also collectively concerned about employment, housing, poverty, and political representation.45

In the attempt to better unify Hispanic Americans, several political support groups exist. These include the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the US. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Mexican Legal Defense and Education Fund.46

Hispanic Americans have traditionally not received a quality education. They have been underrepresented in preschool programs, and thus, start school with fewer school-related skills. By age nine, they "lag behind in reading, mathematics, and science proficiency" and "are more likely to be 'held over' in the elementary grades." By the time they get into high school, many "simply walk away from formal education."47

Because only 37 percent of Hispanic Americans have a high school education, they are disproportionately represented in low-paying jobs such as operators, fabricators, and laborers in the construction, agriculture and service industries. Yet most, 90% of men and 58% of women do work. Many work two jobs.48

One means to bettering their economic status is through starting their own businesses. In 1992, Hispanic-Americans owned 720,000 businesses generating an income of $63 billion annually. By 1996 their businesses had increased to 1.25 million.49

Thus, Hispanic Americans make up a growing part of the USA economy as well as of its population. As their population continues to grow, so will their economic and political impact, making them a public that businesses and public relations practitioners must consider.

End Notes by Request

Linda P. Morton is now full professor at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in public relations and mass communication. Her major research interest involves studies of news releases. She has 24 publications and 24 presentations on gatekeeping and other topics.

Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, The University of Oklahoma, 860 Van Vleet Oval, #101, Norman, OK 73019, 405-325-2721.

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