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Branding: How Univision and Other Corporations Invented The “Hispanic” Market

September 16, 2009
by Gregory Rodriguez
Image source: Televisa

Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, ethnic political grievance served as the dominant narrative for the Mexican American experience. In the 1980s, however, a new competing narrative arose out of the corporate sector’s growing interest in the so-called Hispanic market. [Wrote Earl Shorris in Latinos,] “With information provided by the 1980 U.S. Census in their briefcases, the sales staffs of [Spanish-language] media could argue that there was money to be made: Latinos earned over $50 billion a year”

The defining characteristic and raison d’être of the so-called Hispanic market was the Spanish language. Spanish-language marketers sought to convince mainstream corporations that Latinos would continue to speak Spanish no matter how many generations their families live in the United States. According to one Cuban American vice president for research in the Hispanic division of BBDO Worldwide, a major U.S. advertising firm, “Latinos don’t assimilate and will not assimilate.”

Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the U.S., had the most to gain in convincing corporations that the terms “Hispanic” and “Spanish” were synonymous. At one point, Univision’s marketing materials claimed that the company had an 87 percent prime-time share of Hispanic households nationwide. The truth, however, was that the 87 percent share was [as Arlene Dávila wrote in Latinos, Inc.] “not based on the total Hispanic market but on the percentage of Hispanic viewers watching Spanish television, which according to the Nielsen ratings [ranged] from 25 percent to 40 percent depending on the season.” What few Spanish-language media executives were willing to admit, however, was that “the appearance of high language loyalty [among Mexican Americans was] due largely to the direct effect of continuing mass immigration.”

In fact, Spanish-language television has either relied heavily on imported programming from Latin America or drawn its talent from, [says Dávila,] “specific Latin American countries, where ‘authentic’ Spanish speakers are often recruited to work in the United States.” The same goes for the staffs of Spanish-language newspapers.

From the November December 2007 New Media issue of California.

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