Smashing Racist Stereotypes: Represent the Latino Demographic

The Latino demographic is driving both purchasing power and population growth in the United States – and yet, somehow this demographic is one of the most underrepresented ethnic groups in media. Further, not only is Hispanic representation lacking, but when representation is present, it is often reflective of negative stereotypes. In marketing, the effect of this problem can be detrimental, as it can result in alienating the entire demographic.

Let’s talk about the importance of representing this huge and growing demographic – and how shifting your content marketing strategy results in a truly win-win situation.

The Current State of Latino Representation

You’ve probably heard of pop stars Shakira, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Pitbull, and Jennifer Lopez – they’re some of the best recognized names in the industry. Worth millions of dollars, they’ve been named highly influential.

This small picture of big pop stars does not, however, encompass all Latino visibility in media and marketing. Instead, the Hispanic demographic in the United States sees little representation. Consider some of the statistics:

  • Only 4.2% of speaking characters in the 100 top-grossing films of 2012 were Hispanic
  • Representation is highly stereotyped; for example, Latinas are more likely than all other ethnic group to be partially naked or depicted in “sexy” attire
  • In 2008, no Latino actors had lead roles in any American films

The Latino population has exploded in the past half-century. Eight US states have a Latino population of 1 million or more, including California, Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Arizona, New York, and New Jersey. On an even broader scale, 1 in 6 Americans is Hispanic.

Purchasing power of this demographic is also significant. Even the past 15 years have seen an enormous upswing – from $489 billion in 2000 to an expected $1.5 trillion by the end of 2015. Hispanic consumers are spending everywhere, from e-commerce to popular retail chains, preferring prominent brand names in clothing and shoes. Hispanic women represent 18% of the entire women’s fashion footwear market.

Latino Expectations of Media

Take another look at the stats outlined above. The discrepancy between media representation and spending power is vast, but why?

One answer to this question is that most major marketers and creators of other types of media simply don’t consider this demographic in their content. As a result, Latinos of all ages don’t see themselves in entertainment and advertising.

According to this study from HispanicAd, young Hispanics are optimistic. They expect representation in media to make progress in the future. Survey respondents found themselves disappointed by the present state of representation, with only 10% believing that bicultural Latinos are well represented on TV. 75% of Latinos of ages 14-30 said they would be more likely to pay attention to media with a Hispanic ensemble cast or a story about Latinos in the US.

Furthermore, Latinos have come to expect more diversity in the marketing world. Almost 70% prefer content with actors from multiple racial groups, and almost 50% prefer content that reflects both the US and Latino culture.

It all comes down to answering one simple question: For whom is content being created?

Positive Representation

As it turns out, the problem of poor media representation for the Latino demographic has been a point of discussion for decades. What little representation that exists of Latinos has been denigrating at worst and often stereotypical at best. Tropes such as the “greasy bandit,” “sexy Latina lover,” and the “stupid peon” – among others – all seem to have a similar effect. Through these stereotypes, vastly diverse Latino culture is reduced to a superficial, one-sided image. More “realistic” depictions of Latinos often come across as patronizing and condescending.

The intended audience for this kind of media is usually the “average American,” a straight, middle-class white male. Inadequate representation of Latinos in marketing and media both contributes to and reinforces stereotypes and racism. By painting the “average American” as the norm, media is telling marginalized groups that they may not exist.

What Marketing Can Do

So far, the marketing world has been at the forefront of media when it comes to representation of minorities. The conclusion is simple: if businesses want Latinos to buy in, they need to be tactful and appropriate in their treatment of this demographic. It’s not just about inclusion; it’s about fighting racism in the marketing world, creating a win-win situation for all participants.

An important effect of positive representation is not only that the audience won’t be offended. By targeting a demographic with high quality, well-researched content, brands ultimately create a reason for an audience to buy in. Playing into negative stereotypes is not only morally problematic; it also makes your brand look insensitive.

What’s Working: Positive Representation of Latinos

With the importance of quality representation of minorities in mind, let’s look at some of the marketing campaigns that have realistically and positively targeted the Latino demographic.

McDonald’s recently won the Marketer of the Year Award at the annual AHAA Hispanic Agency conference. The golden arches represent well-researched, thoughtful targeted marketing, with a marketing director that explicitly handles the Hispanic demographic. The company practices what it preaches with regard to diversity; Adam Salgado, the VP of McDonald’s, speaks Spanish at home so his children will grow up bilingual.

This fun, award-winning ad, entitled “First Customer” stars a bilingual Latino teenager on his first day at the job at McDonald’s. His parents arrive at the drive-thru window to snap pictures and chat excitedly in Spanglish about how proud they are of their son. Notably, the ad ends with McDonalds’ Spanish language slogan – “Me Encanta” – showing that this ad is targeting multicultural Hispanic-Americans with its cheerful and positive representation of Latino families.

Toyota was also a recipient of an award for its positive representation of Latinos in the USH Idea Awards.

While most advertisements for trucks might go out of their way to talk about how strong their product is, this ad doesn’t go that far. Instead, the ad uses a Latino narrator to tell the story of a Toyota Tundra’s journey through LA to the California Science Center, towing the historic space shuttle Endeavour along the way.

Not only is this a positive representation of the Latino demographic, but this ad also features spoken lines in Spanish, Portuguese, British English, and more. By using the already planned helicopter footage of the Endeavour’s journey to the Science Center, Toyota placed billboards on rooftops that could only be seen in flight, touching the hearts of multilingual and multicultural Americans everywhere.

The result of diverse marketing content is that companies show their dedication to an enormous audience of multiple different backgrounds. Marketing is at the forefront of positive representation. By acknowledging that America is constantly changing, marketing experts reflect an inclusive American reality. It’s not just about the average American; it’s about every American.

How Small Businesses Can Hop on the Bandwagon

Latinos are more likely to find diverse marketing appealing, preferring content with strong and positive representation. This demographic’s focus on nuclear family and multicultural identity is becoming more and more represented in American marketing and media.

Spanglish and other forms of code switching are especially well received in marketing, showing a multilingual reality. Still, Hispanic consumption of Spanish language media is enormous. Sixty-eight percent of Latinos living in the US watch the news and consume other media in Spanish, while roughly 50% speak predominantly Spanish inside the home.

Well-written and researched Spanish language content marketing is gaining ground, which means that any business can start reaching out in a major way. Positive representation is good for business, and high quality Spanish content is an important way in.

Has your business targeted the Latino demographic through Spanish language content?

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Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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