The Unrecognized Star of Latino Marketing

A couple of weeks ago, a decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reignited a discussion on a sensitive matter: Puerto Rico’s identity.

The Oscars rejected the Puerto Rican film “América,” not allowing it to compete in the Foreign Language Film category. The decision was based on Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory, therefore ineligible. Interesting to note is that the category refers to the foreign language film, not foreign country.

This is just another example of the status and identity challenges that Puerto Rico faces.

An Island of Dichotomies

There’s plenty of discussion around Puerto Rico’s (political) status. So I won’t focus on that aspect. At the end of the day, this is a marketing column.

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth and also an unincorporated territory of the U.S. Full of dichotomies; it represents a challenge for marketers as well:

  • It is not an independent country nor a U.S. state.
  • Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship.
  • Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the American president, but those who move to the continental U.S. can vote.
  • Spanish is the official language in Puerto Rico, though there’s “compulsory” English education in schools.
  • For some marketers, Puerto Rico is part of their Latin American region, for others, it is part of their U.S. region.
  • Puerto Rico’s population is counted by the U.S. Census Bureau, but is not included as part of the total U.S. population.
  • The Puerto Rican population living in the mainland U.S. is greater than that living in Puerto Rico.
  • Univision and Telemundo are also the leading networks, but a national media buy on any of those networks will not include Puerto Rico. You need to buy it separately.
  • Puerto Rico is the only market worldwide where Burger King outsells McDonald’s.

The American Influx

There are more Puerto Ricans living in Florida than in San Juan. Population mobility goes both ways (from Puerto Rico to the U.S. and vice versa). Puerto Ricans stay in touch with their homes (travel for holidays, money remittance, etc).

Economy and business in Puerto Rico are mostly influenced by the U.S. (actually, it has the same currency – the American dollar).

If you get to see the retail landscape, you will find most of the most important American icons: Kmart, Macy’s, Gap, Walgreens, etc.

Though Puerto Rico’s average income is lower, materialism is at the same level as America. For many retailers, some of their Puerto Rican stores are within their top performing overall U.S. stores.

Puerto Rico is a clear bicultural market, influencing and being influenced by the U.S.

Opportunities for Marketers

When working with clients, I’m surprised that many U.S. companies don’t always include Puerto Rico as part of their U.S. Hispanic efforts. I encourage companies to do so, taking into consideration the following implications:

  • Share of Hispanics over total U.S. population becomes 17 percent (versus 16 percent).
  • Total U.S. Hispanic population becomes 55.2 million (versus 51.2 without Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico).
  • Puerto Rico gets to be the third largest Hispanic DMA after LA and New York.

Puerto Rico represents a great opportunity for marketers:

  • Provides an incremental growth opportunity for existing Hispanic marketing efforts.
  • Can be used as a pilot market for new Latino marketing initiatives.
  • Provides the unique advantage to isolate sales (in continental Hispanic DMA, it’s difficult to isolate Hispanic sales from overall sales).
  • From a media standpoint, it’s more cost effective.

Will Puerto Rico become the 51st star of the American flag one day? No one knows. What’s for sure is that Puerto Rico deserves the recognition as a star of Latino marketing.

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