US Latino stories…¿Adónde estás?

Michael Roca, managing director, multicultural media planning and buying, PHD USA
Michael Roca, managing director, multicultural media planning and buying, PHD USA

US Latinos have become a demographic force to be reckoned with, but there is still a noticeable absence in stories that genuinely reflect their culture, realities and aspirations.

The US Latino population grew 23% from 2010 to 2020, while non-Hispanic populations grew just 4% during the same time period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Latinos are now the largest minority group in the US, standing at 62 million and representing almost 20% of the population. 

So why are stories of the US Latino experience not being told?

Outside of Spanish-language behemoths like Univision and Telemundo, as well as platforms like Netflix bringing content from Spanish-language countries to the American mainstream, culturally relevant Latino content is almost nonexistent in the US. Just 7% of 2019’s top grossing movies had a Hispanic lead, according to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study. This reinforced UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report” findings that Latinos only accounted for 4.6% of movie roles and 5.3% of TV roles in 2019.  

Part of the issue is that there aren’t enough Latinos in writers’ rooms. According to 2019 data from the Writers Guild of America, only 4.7% of TV and 8.7% of film writers were Latino. This is a key reason why Latinos are not seeing authentic stories that reflect the richness and resilience of their culture, but rather recycled Hispanicized reboots of One Day at a Time (Netflix/Pop) and Party of Five (Freeform), which both struggled to find audiences.  

While the world of streaming seems promising, (see: Prime’s Cinderella starring Camila Cabello, Netflix originals Gentefied and Selena: The Series, and Disney+’s Diary of a Future President), the wins are still too few and far between. Especially because eight out of ten Latino households subscribe to at least one SVOD service, per a 2021 Horowitz research study.  

Representation will only have a fair shot if it is reflected by content decisionmakers. At Netflix, for example, Hispanics represent just 4.9% of leadership, the company admitted in its first Inclusion Report this year. That’s out of proportion with a group that represents 20% of the population.

Representation, however, is more than just a numbers game. The US Latino experience is nuanced. Yes, language is a tie that binds us; but many aspects of Latino culture can’t be painted with a broad brush. A good example is the theatrical release of In the Heights. While producer Lin Manuel Miranda had only the best intention, the film was still criticized for not highlighting Afro-Latino Dominicans, who make up a large portion of the Washington Heights community. Maybe for the powers that be, Latinos still seem too foreign, or too complex? 

Relevant content will always find an audience, which is why Latinos have developed a robust appetite for social media, becoming the most active and engaged users among any race or ethnicity, according to a 2018 eMarketer report. From Lele Pons to LeJuan James and Dulce Candy, Latino influencers have become household names, satisfying the hunger for culturally relevant content that Hollywood (based in a city that is literally half Hispanic) has overlooked.  

Here are four things marketers can do now to help fill the void on authentic Latino content:

1. Prioritize the Hispanic audience

US Hispanics are a sizable and fast-growing market, but what is most critical is their youth factor. The average Hispanic is 30 years old, compared to 44 years old for non-Hispanic whites. Couple this with their $1.9 trillion in purchasing power, growing 70% faster than non–Latinos, and this group is a critical growth engine to all business categories. 

2. Don’t let language be a barrier

Hispanics are largely bilingual and bicultural, and therefore can be reached on mass media. But only a culturally relevant approach that incorporates endemic media can effectively engage and connect with them. The media and entertainment communities must self-assess and course correct to create more authentic and representative Latino stories. 

3. Grow the Latino creator ecosystem

Challenge the status quo through innovative media opportunities. Omnicom Media Group, for example, has a Diverse Media Network that makes it easier for marketers to reach Latino creators while expanding the ecosystem of culturally relevant content. 

4. Support independent media and production companies

While Univision and Telemundo are the most obvious options, there are tons of players (NGL Media, Canela Media and Pero Like, to name a few) that are sharing tremendous stories from the Latino community. Brands should broaden their partner list to include more niche and minority-owned and targeted players that have rich relationships with various Latino audiences. 

Michael Roca is managing director, multicultural media planning and buying, PHD USA

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