What Do Latin Americans Want?

What do Latin Americans want? It’s the question on the lips of many marketers today. But in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, political marketers might get to the answers sooner than others.

Last week, one of the top items in the Latino news cycle was a Spanish-language ad by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) aimed at Latino voters. Two things struck reporters as newsworthy. First, the ad came just days after a campaign by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and American Crossroads, a conservative group led by Karl Rove. Second, and perhaps more newsworthy, the DNC’s was the first for the party in the 2012 election cycle.

Got that? The first DNC ad for campaign 2012 is targeted at Latino voters, and the ad is in Spanish. But the RNC is right beside them, making Latino voters one of the most interesting groups to watch in the next 17 months.

While political marketers are not the only ones heavily courting Latinos, the Latino political playbook – now open at page one – should provide marketers from all sectors with valuable insights. Here are three things to watch, as the larger playbook unfolds.

Which Latinos?

Oh yes, I’ve said it many times – and there’s plenty of evidence that marketers actually get it – but Latinos are not a monolith, a single people with common interests. But they are in fact a metatribe – a loose confederation of groups that sometimes come together around umbrella issues. Knowing which part of the metatribe to approach is a critical question at the start of any long-term campaign. On the face of it, the first group of Latinos is older, speaks Spanish, and lives in the Latino swing states (the DNC ads are airing in Nevada, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico, as well as the District of Columbia; the RNC ads are running in similar territories). But this is 2011, and news travels fast and content gets shared quickly. The very fact that the two parties have identified Latinos as the first voter niche will get the attention of many Latinos, regardless of who they are. And by marketing in Spanish to an older crowd – more about age in a moment – the RNC and the DNC are striking a chord of authenticity.

What Content?

Just as complex is the range of issues that matter most to Latinos. The DNC is betting on the importance of healthcare reform, Social Security, and education. The RNC and American Crossroads are relying on a simpler “the economy is in trouble” theme. Both are also raising the issue of trust; the DNC’s ad is actually dubbed, “El Quien Confiar” (“The One You Can Trust”). But just as interesting is what both have left out of the messaging: immigration. Given the risk that this theme has so early in the campaign, it’s not surprising to see that it has been omitted. But it was not so long ago that the Obama administration signaled its intent to make immigration reform a cornerstone of his campaign. My guess is that the immigration message – which has been interwoven into a youth-and-education message aimed at the Dreamers – will wait. It will come for sure, but only after enough time has passed for “The One You Can Trust” message to settle in. And it will almost certainly involve other media.

Welcome to marketing in the post-digital age.

Who Knows the Answer?

But back to the main question – the one in this column’s title. While the content in the opposing ads suggests that Republicans and Democrats already know the answer, I suspect that this election season will introduce an innovation that has value for all marketers. In my last column, I looked at a recent White House event where 150 Latino business and civic business leaders were invited to engage with 100-plus federal government officials. It was an interesting iteration on the “town hall” format, only a lot more interactive. One of the event’s goals? To get a better sense of what Latinos – in all their splendid diversity – actually care about. I will bet that the marketing world will see more of this kind format, combining some of the best aspects of online and offline engagement.

What do Latinos want? Why not just ask them. The rules and tools for consumer engagement are here, and the new political season will do a great deal to make them better known.

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