Wired at the Beach

Believe it or not, I’m writing with sand between my toes on a beach in Puerto Vallarta. It’s been seven years since I’ve officially taken a holiday, so here I am. I thought the last thing I’d be thinking about here is the Internet and online ads. No such luck!

For the first time in a very long time, I feel completely disconnected. Sure, it’s great to be away from the daily chaos of work life: office phones constantly ringing; piles of voice mail and email; mobile calls; and a hectic schedule on my PDA. But after a while, it’s kind of weird. Whether I have my consumer or advertiser hat on, being disconnected from an otherwise wired life is rather unsettling. No matter which hat I wear (even a sunhat), the Net is a mainstay.

On a day like today, I would typically log on and check email, the weather, stock updates, and news headlines. I’d then do a bit a research on local activities and things to do today (other than reapply my sun block 45). Without online access, I’m lost.

I’m not alone. Back at the resort there are others like me — Americans, Mexicans, and Canadians mostly, who gather upstairs in the hospitality suite. This room is designed for guests to relax, have a drink, look at an amazing view of the ocean, read condensed versions of the New York Times fax blasts, watch Spanish TV, and… go online!

The hotel charges 25 pesos for 15 minutes, about $3.00 USD. Paying for Net access makes me realize how privileged I am. I stand in line and log on. Of course, the browser is en Espa&ntildeol. I chuckle and go about my business quickly as the line behind me builds with people waiting impatiently.

Later, I watch people log on, one by one. As a media person, it’s amazing: Everyone has traveled and had ended up here at this resort. By their dress and demeanor, I can tell most are here for pleasure, some for business. There’s a Caucasian American woman with a diskette, reading glasses, and a crumpled piece of paper. Behind her is a 40-something Canadian couple taking turns checking email as they drink some fruity cocktail. Next, there’s a tall, weathered Mexican man with a notebook. He talks to the attendant in both Spanish and English, asking how long the wait is, how much does it costs to go online, which programs do they have, do they have Word, he must have Word. His work will take about an hour he thinks. How long will he have to wait? A cute little girl and woman enter with entreating looks. Aha! The wife and daughter are checking to see if he’s finished. It seems he’s sneaking in some work on the family vacation. (Rings a bell, doesn’t it?) The last guy waiting is American… Southern. No, maybe mid-Western… gosh, he’s about 80 or so. The Mexican man lets him go ahead. The older man sits at the computer. I’m trying hard not to look like I’m watching. He wants to log on and check email on MSN… fabulous!

Other than letting you all in on my little vacation secrets, you’re probably asking what all this means. Does this relate to online advertising? This, dear readers, was a perfect slice of life for an American online media planner. A surprising discovery in regard to how much we take the Net for granted in this country. It was an eye-opener in regard to the demographic, psychographic ,and technographic makeup of people who found wires in a country less wired than our own.

As advertisers, we closely observe two up-and-coming market segments: the Hispanic and the Spanish-speaking markets. According to eMarketer, “50 percent of Hispanic Americans, ages 18 and over, have used the Internet. This accounts for 11 million Hispanic adults.” Nielsen//NetRatings reports 6.7 million have home Internet access in Mexico. This makes Mexico the second largest Internet market in Latin America, after Brazil (where 10.4 million have home access).

Reader and new email friend Cynthia Nelson-Garcia, CEO of MediaUno, wrote, “Many use the Internet to research, such as where to find mail-order ancho chiles, what is the best recipe for Colombian sancocho, or how to make a killer Cuban mojito.”

U.S. Hispanic kids are very Web savvy. Even parents with relatively low income levels save and buy their children PCs so they can compete with other children in public schools. “U.S. Hispanics, by and large, are very, very into getting their kids the best education possible,” Cynthia so perfectly says.

The digital divide is closing. Good news, as we all work to keep ahead of the curve.

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