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English Enters Into Media For Latinos

Marketers, television broadcasters and publications in pursuit of `acculturated' Hispanics are learning to speak their language

By Leon Lazaroff
Tribune national correspondent

August 5, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CHICAGO TRIBUNE. All rights reserved.

NEW YORK -- Eager to reach younger and more affluent U.S. Hispanics, advertisers, publishers and cable television networks are discovering it is best to speak to them in their own language--English.

Spanish may be the dominant language of Latinos, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. However, for bilingual, better-educated young Hispanics, English increasingly is the media language of choice.

In response, a new crop of English-language television networks, radio stations and magazines have emerged to offer fresh choices to "acculturated" Latinos, those who maintain their Latin roots but identify closely with the American mainstream.

"Marketers have long been frustrated that there aren't enough media channels to reach bilingual, bicultural Hispanics," said Erika Prosper, strategy director at Garcia 360Communications, an agency based in San Antonio. "It makes sense that when you look at your total Hispanic marketing plan that not 100 percent goes into Spanish-language media."

The choices for English-leaning Latinos are multiplying. On television there's SiTV, the English-language cable network launched last year that targets hip, young Hispanics but is designed to appeal to anyone 18 to 34 years old. Likewise, the Spanish-language network Telemundo's sister channel Mun2--a play on the Spanish word mundos, or worlds--uses English to reach young and more acculturated Hispanics.

On radio, roughly a dozen stations, owned by large media groups such as Clear Channel Communications and Spanish Broadcasting Systems, have converted in the past year to an "Hurban" format, in which disc jockeys speak in English but play music in Spanish and English.

Among magazines, the move to capture the acculturated Latino has been even more pronounced. Marcos Baer, publisher of the Hispanic media industry newsletter Portada, or front page, said more than a dozen English-language magazines catering to Hispanics have launched in the past year.

More voices in the mix

They include Loft, a lifestyle and entertainment monthly published in Miami that targets "sophisticated and affluent" Hispanic men; iCaramba U., a New York-based bimonthly aimed at Latino high school and college students; Bello, or Beauty, an upscale lifestyle quarterly published in Santa Ana, Calif.; and Hombre, meaning man, a men's title along the lines of Esquire.

Those new publications join more-established English-language publications such as Urban Latino, Hispanic Business, Latina and Catalina.

"The biggest hole we've had in our market are media that speak to us intelligently," said Jaime Gamboa, publisher of Tu Ciudad, or Your City, a Los Angeles magazine owned by Emmis Communications. Emmis, which introduced Tu Ciudad in May, plans to roll out similar editions in other U.S. cities, including Chicago.

"We're looking for voices that speak to us about what's going on in our lives, and speak to us in the language we use every day, which is English," said Gamboa, referring to acculturated Latinos.

To be sure, the vast majority of advertising aimed at Hispanics is done in Spanish.

Of the about $3.4 billion to be spent on Hispanic advertising in 2005, the percentage of English-language spending will not rise above the low single digits, said Alex Lopez Negrete, president of Houston-based Lopez Negrete

Communications and chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.

English-language outlets may not generate the kind of revenues produced by their Spanish-language counterparts, but their very existence reflects important changes in the composition of U.S. Hispanics, said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a research institute in Washington.

As the population of American-born Hispanics has increased, so has bilingualism, Suro said. According to Pew's 2002 National Survey of Latinos, 46 percent of second-generation and 78 percent of third-generation adult Hispanics speak mostly English. Drawing a connection between income and language, HispanTelligence, the research arm of Hispanic Business Inc., reported in December that English-dominant Hispanics account for 59 percent of Hispanics' spending power.

As of 2004, Hispanics represent the country's largest minority group, totaling roughly 41 million people, or 14 percent of the population, the Census Bureau reported. For advertisers, one of the most significant census findings was that more than 31 percent of Hispanics are 18 to 34 years old, a group prized for its brand-conscious, free-spending ways.

But the census also revealed that American-born Hispanics, not immigrants, accounted for 60 percent of the growth in the Latino population since 2000. Rather than shedding their roots and completely assimilating into U.S. culture, these Hispanics, Suro said, "acculturate--they identify themselves as Hispanic and American."

The question for media companies and advertisers is how best to reach this evolving population.

`Spreading their bets'

 "The unknown here is the extent to which someone retains an ethnic identity that influences their choices of entertainment," Suro said. "It's a large enough population that marketers are spreading their bets."

General Motors has become one of the most active advertisers among English-language Hispanic media. Felipe Herrera, GM's director of Hispanic marketing, explains that over the past four or five years corporate advertisers began to tailor campaigns to better connect with certain demographic groups.

"Second- and third-generation Hispanics' use of language might be different than more recent immigrants, so we've had to accompany that shift by expanding our outreach," he said.

Until recently, television advertisers aiming at acculturated Hispanics could choose only from networks in the English-language general market or broad-based Spanish-language outlets, principally Univision Communications or its chief rival, NBC's Telemundo.

But reaching Hispanics who prefer English by advertising on a popular show such as Fox's "American Idol" can have its downside, said Lisa Contreras-Torres, director of multicultural services at Carat USA, a media services group. Hispanics want to see something in a commercial that speaks specifically to them, she said.

"What appeals to someone in the general market may not appeal to someone who is English-speaking of Latin descent," Contreras-Torres said. "At the same time, it's not as simple as Univision equals your entire Hispanic campaign."

Though the number of English-language media aimed at Hispanics has grown, Tom McGarrity, head of network sales at Univision, doubts they will make much of an impact on how corporate advertisers spend their money.

Spanish-language television now receives more than 64 percent of all advertising aimed at Hispanics. Univision gets 78 percent of that television spending, while Telemundo accounts for about 19 percent, according to HispanTelligence.

McGarrity argues that SiTV and Mun2 will be hampered by the cost of producing original programming as well as securing coveted low-numbered spots on cable dials.

"When people come to Univision, they know they're getting Spanish," McGarrity said. "With SiTV or Mun2, you're in a sea of English competition."

But according to Jeff Valdez, SiTV's co-founder and chairman, Univision isn't the best option for reaching acculturated Hispanics.

Valdez points out that at any given time, roughly 60 percent of Hispanics are watching English-language television while the remainder watch in Spanish, a point backed by a November report from Nielsen Media Research. He said advertisers needed new venues, such as SiTV.

A creator of the groundbreaking Nickelodeon sitcom "The Brothers Garcia," Valdez took seven years, beginning in 1997, to persuade Echostar Communications Corp., operators of the DISH satellite network, and Time Warner Inc. to invest in a Latino-themed, English-language network that would produce its own entertainment.

Now available in more than 7 million homes, SiTV attracts such advertisers as Sears, Verizon Wireless, Suzuki and Wal-Mart.

"This isn't simply about Spanish versus English," he said. "It's about demographics and culture. It's about reaching young people in an environment they can identify with. And that's something new."

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