The Population’s Building. Will Advertisers Come?

Let’s see if you can guess the group I’m describing. Nearly half of them receive or pay bills online. They spend 9.5 hours a week online at home and another 13.8 hours a week at work. That adds up to 16 percent more time than the Internet-using U.S. adult population as a whole. When they meet new people, 43 percent hand over an email address as the sole means of staying in touch. That’s compared to 31 percent of the total U.S. online consumer population.

Sound pretty Internet savvy, don’t they? I’m not talking about teens, college students, or folks who’ve been using the Internet for more than five years. Another clue: If you want to reach them, you might try speaking in Spanish.

Felicidades! You guessed it. I’m talking about the population of U.S. Hispanics online. The above stats are courtesy of the America Online/Roper ASW U.S. Hispanic Cyberstudy. They’re no doubt one reason AOL is launching a separate version of its 9.0 software solely for this audience. AOL Latino, scheduled to launch October 1 (just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15), is only one example of how publishers are positioning themselves to capitalize on what many believe is the next big thing.

How big? Well, we’re talking 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population, 35.5 million people. We’ve heard a lot since the U.S. Census 2000 about how Hispanics are now the biggest minority in the U.S. In some areas, they’re not a minority at all. In Los Angeles, Hispanics account for 46.5 percent of the population; in San Antonio, 58.7 percent of residents are Hispanic; and in Miami, they’re 65.8 percent of the total.

“In some cities, like Los Angeles, there is no such thing as a Latino market,” said Peter Blacker, vice president of U.S. Hispanic and International at America Online. “It’s just Los Angeles.”

More and more places will fall into that category as the Hispanic population continues to boom. According to a National Vital Statistics report, the overall birth rate in the U.S. in 2002 was the lowest since national data have been recorded. The birth rate for Hispanic women was actually up 2 percent.

An interesting little example of the latest in online U.S. Hispanic culture is Yahoo en Español’s hosting of the “La Cenicenta” (or Cinderella) site, an accompaniment to the Telemundo reality TV dating show of the same name. In an apparent effort to attract a bilingual audience, the show, which features a Mexican-American single mother from Houston, is subtitled in English. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s any English online content (thank goodness for Google’s translation features!). As more U.S.-born Hispanic kids grow up, they’ll increasingly be as comfortable in English as in Spanish — something to consider in your marketing plan.

Characteristics of U.S. Hispanics:

  • Young. Though 25.7 percent of the U.S. population was under the age of 18 in 2000, 35 percent of Hispanics were under 18. (U.S. Census 2000)

  • Californians and Texans. Half of all Hispanics lived in California and Texas in 2000, with 31 percent of the total Hispanic population living in California and 19 percent in Texas. (U.S. Census 2000)
  • Online newbies. Nearly half of Hispanic Internet users reported having started using the medium at home within the past two years. (AOL/Roper ASW Hispanic Cyberstudy)
  • Online bilinguals. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed said access to English content is very or somewhat important, while only 53 percent said the same of Spanish content. (AOL/Roper ASW Hispanic Cyberstudy)
  • Online advertising proponents. Forty-one percent of those surveyed found online advertising informative, compared with 21 percent of total U.S. online consumers. (AOL/Roper ASW Hispanic Cyberstudy)

With all these attractive characteristics, it’s surprising how few interactive agencies are working with the U.S. Hispanic market. I did some very informal research by looking at the Web sites of members of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA). I was amazed how few listed any interactive projects in their portfolios. AOL’s Blacker confirmed my suspicions, saying he’d seen the most interest from mainstream interactive agencies, which are just beginning to learn about the Hispanic market.

Still, things are definitely growing. In January, Univision Online, the interactive arm of Univision Communications, said it added 70 new advertisers for its Univision.com site in 2002. That brought the total number of advertisers to 100 and increased ad revenue by 92 percent.

It can be a complex world, to be sure. When you start breaking down the Hispanic population to consider English or Spanish dominance, countries of origin, and age, it can get pretty confusing. That’s why Hispanic-oriented online media folks are trying to demystify the market. At this week’s Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) conference in New York, Blacker and Louis Romero of Univision Online hosted a “sponsored workshop” on the topic. Univision.com sponsored a lunch. Romero also presented a case study involving Fannie Mae. Next week, on Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16), another AOL exec will present at the New York chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA). The topic? “Why and How to Reach Hispanics Online.”

AOL’s effort, to be sure, is part of a push leading up to the AOL Latino launch on October 1. The pitch: You need to get your brand in front of this audience before your competition does because, as Blacker said, “these young Hispanics are establishing brand preferences… and they are adopting to the Internet at a very rapid rate.” Sure, it’s a sales pitch, but one worth listening to and acting upon. It doesn’t have to be AOL Latino, but certainly somewhere with a little Latin flavor.

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