Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu on the Web

I've been monitoring the news coverage on the swine flu outbreak and have noticed signs of panic on the web as chatter touches on a potential pandemic. No one is more concerned than Mexican-Americans - folks that not only are concerned about their health here in the U.S., but also for relatives back in Mexico. MySpace Latino has seen an increase in talk within its forums on the subject and no doubt thatMexico’s national newspaper, La Reforma, and its site, are seeing an increase in traffic as people try to stay abreast of the developments.

This is really scary stuff, but I'm thankful the web provides access to information at our fingertips to stay informed, and dispel myths or clarify misinformation. I think about the early days of HIV and imagine how frightening it must have been to not know what the disease was, how one contracted it and not have any place to find out info.

What an amazing time we live in to be able to share information and track developments in real time. I hope that this sickness is contained and those affected, recover. Certainly, the web will continue to be my destination for the latest and greatest.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hispanic Behavioral Targeting

As the Hispanic online audience has grown to over 20 million, so too have the methods for reaching them. The level of sophistication for behavioral targeting increased rapidly over the years.

Today, several networks, including AOL’s Platform-A, have introduced several options for advertisers to reach Hispanics via content type, language and geotargeting. Not to mention, there are ways for these ad networks to get as granular as identifying purchase intent for various categories like auto or finance.

While certainly this is a positive for advertisers who want to avoid wasteful, untargeted investments, what about those who are being targeted? Many of us online go about our business without giving much thought to the recording of our actions online by cookies. Yet, the more one sits to think about the level of data being recorded about our activites, it becomes a bit scary.

On one side of the debate, you could argue that this recorded information will make our lives easier. We'll have an online experience that is more customized, personalized to our interests and needs. On the other side, you could argue that big brother watching over us is nothing short of a police state.

As the law struggles to catch up to the realities of today's technology and the promise of more advanced methods tomorrow, how will the world's governments address the growing concern over consumer privacy?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

iPhone App Gives Apple an Ethical Headache

Apple pulled a controversial iPhone application just two days after the software designer, Sikalosoft, put the app on sale for .99 cents. The problem: the application, "Baby Shaker" gave users the opportunity to shake a gerber-esque baby so harshly as to put a stop to its crying.

This is straight from the promotional materials: "Babies are everywhere you don't want them to be! They're always distracting you from preparing for that big presentation at work with their incessant crying. Before Baby Shaker there was nothing you could do about it."

Apple's decision comes after harsh criticism from several organizations including the Shaken Baby Syndrome Foundation. Certainly, the slack from this will weigh heavily on Apple over the coming weeks.

Apple may have to decide to put limits on its extremely democratized application development software. The ethical dilemma persists, to be free for all or limit the freedom to monitor and control?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Social GPS Convergence

Over the past 2 months, I've been tracking my friend, Heidi, on Google Latitude. We've opted in to see where each of us are at throughout the day via our mobile phone and online. Just the other day I texted her to find out why she was in Southport, CT. (She was outlet shopping.)

Loopt is another service that offers folks the opportunity to see small profiles of friends and strangers alike and connect with them. Imagine spotting an attractive guy/gal within a two block radius and asking them out for coffee? Unlikely? Not really - my roommate did just that. Certainly this is a dangerous technology - you may not want everyone to see where you are at all times.

But I thought, given Hispanics' propensity to socialize - maybe this technology will find huge adoption amongst Latinos? Does that data exist? No. But impromptu connections and a fluid idea of personal space make Latitude and Loopt interesting social enhancers for Hispanics. It will be interesting to see how the use of social GPS application evolves and how multicultural audiences adopt and adapt these technologies in the future.

Immigration Reform Groundswell

Latino chat rooms, forums and blogs have been abuzzing the past two weeks as Hispanics discuss the potential of real immigration reform in the next 12 months.'s forum on immigration has seen an increase in activity and traffic. While the Obama administration has been coy about their plans, many political watchers thought the issue would come to light following Obama's visit to Mexico last week prior to the Americas summit.

The web has become a critical tool in uniting political activists, community members and other constituents. As Hispanics have mobilized via the web, their strong networks have given them more political capital. It seems that immigration reform is going to be a key issue that Latinos are interested in investing in. The truth of the matter is that while the economy is just as important to Hispanics, there are personal issues being raised with illegal immigration that affects all Hispanics regardless of legal status. Families are being torn apart, racism and anti-Hispanic sentiment is rising and these negative issues all tie back to immigration reform.

African Americans have historically been the most organized minority group in actualizing and wielding their political capital. However, the web is becoming an equalizer for Hispanics who do not have the same extensive grassroot footprint. Hispanics with their size + the web's ability to unite via the groundswell = political power that is being redistributed every day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hispanic Online Banking

Many are surprised to discover that Hispanics participate in online banking. Comscore reports that nearly half (47 percent) of Hispanics looked up bank account balances online. And 12 percent paid their bills online, as opposed to 5 percent of non-Hispanics.

Despite these strong numbers, Latino banking activity still has some growing to do. The challenge: according to Simmons, 52% of Hispanics don't have any bank account at all. On the good side, banks can expect $200 billion in new business over the next few years and Hispanics have the least amount of debt of any ethnicity. However, on the negative side, Hispanics are not fully realizing their financial potential and building their credit history. This impedes their ability to secure better financing on homes and new cars in the future.

Several banks and MasterCard have engaged Latinos for years via financial education campaigns to reduce the number of the unbanked. Prepaid cards have recently been introduced as a stepping stone to building credit history. Similar to prepaid phone cards, a concept that Hispanics are intimately familiar with, is a great way to teach them about the product benefits. However, these efforts have been spotty and certainly have not had the same level of push as other initiatives.

Banks should take note, a financial sleeping giant is starting to wake up. Perhaps more aggressive courting of this key demographic can help pull the industry out of its slump?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Social Media, Pranks & The Law

Over the last few months, I've talked about the power of social media especially amongst multicultural audiences. Social media goes beyond MySpace and Facebook, encompassing any place where groups can commune and share - YouTube, Flikr, etc. But what do companies do when consumers decide to share content they developed around a brand? And what happens if that content is a seemingly innocent prank that is potentially harmful to the brand?

Much has been written about the viral Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. Mentos shined while Diet Coke came down on the creators with a heavy-handed "cease & desist." This was rather harmless and if anything, helped both brands engage their base. In fact, Mentos launched an experiential marketing campaign around the premise and paid the creators to participate.

But today, Domino's is facing a much more daunting challenge. What does it do when two rogue employees upload a video to YouTube of themselves sticking cheese in their nose, waving salami behind their rear and place said items on a subway sandwich? The brand initially was cautious and tried not to feed the media frenzy. But just one day later, the video had been viewed over 1MM times and there was a warrant out for the arrest of the terminated employees. Heavy handed? Perhaps. But, web buzz metrics saw a steep decline in Domino's quality brand image in just one day. These types of precipitous drops are uncommon. Something they built over many years, erased in 24 hours.

The law is unclear on how to proceed. There are clear expectations of free speech on one side, and protection against defamation from the other. Only time will tell if legislators will move quickly enough to address the changing web landscape. One thing is clear, there are no easy answers and a lot of quivering brand managers out there.

Burger King Faces Ethical Dilemma

Burger King is facing an ethical dilemma as they suffer under a firestorm brought on by millions of Mexicans across the globe. The web played a major role in helping to bring to light an ad campaign running in the UK and Spain. The ad and accompanying print work (see above) are for the new Texican Whopper - a fushion of Texas angus beef and Mexican spices, get it?

The advertisements depict Mexicans in a negative light - referring to the barely 5 foot tall, luchador mask wearing Mexican character as "El Cachito" (the little morsel). While the TV spot doesn't include the Mexican flag's eagle, the accompanying print work does. This is concerning as Mexican law strictly forbids its desicration in any way.

Burger King and their agency, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, are now in an ethical quandary (and business one). Do they continue to push ahead driven by creative freedom or do they respect the desire of millions of Mexicans to have this poor interpretation stricken from the public's view?

Spurred on by the Mexican Ambassador to Spain, Jorge ZermeƱo, it seems that Burger King is bowing to pressure and is planning to pull the work. It may not be because they see the light, but rather, understand the importance of Mexicans to their business. The US Hispanic market is a lucrative one and Mexico is arguably their second largest after the US. Ethical or not, Burger King understands that not reacting quickly in today's web based world, can really hurt the bottom line.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spanish-Language as Cultural Relevance?

Many marketers approach their Hispanic marketing like an equation. How many Hispanics are exposed to their message via general market messaging? Then, they discount a specific percentage of spill that is not understood by the target (effective spill). Then they develop complimentary goals in Spanish-language to meet their communication objectives. Lastly, some translate their spot from English to Spanish and others develop original Spanish-language creative.

The problem with this approach is that Hispanic targeting becomes a function of language not of cultural relevance. Sure, those who create original creative targeted to Hispanics in Spanish are getting at the cultural relevance. But what about the Hispanics reached via effective spill? Are they not worthy of targeted, culturally relevant creative in English?

Certainly with limited resources, the lowest hanging fruit is targeting those not appropriately reached via general efforts. Yet, the Hispanic market is rapidly evolving and it's only a matter of time before it shares many traits with the African American market.

Ask any African American marketing agency and they'll tell you the same thing. They have to fight for every penny and explain why simply relying on general market spill is not effective. Clients on the other hand, point to the heavy usage of television and radio (African Americans spend on average 10 more hours with broadcast media per week than non-blacks.) US Born Hispanics spend 13.5 more hours vs. non-Hispanics, so it seems Hispanic agencies will eventual suffer the same level of scrutiny.

Which goes back to the original point - when language is used as a crutch to justify advertising, you forget about a critical and growing segment of the Hispanic market - US Born Hispanics who spend less time consuming media in Spanish.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Multicultural Gays Online

Since the beginning of the web; lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) have found virtual communities to find support. Sites like Gay Cafe created a place where young and old LGBT's could be themselves and find others like them. Gays of color also found refuge in these chat rooms and later, dating sites.

However, there are few places online that connect or provide resources exclusively for Latino or African American gays. For minorities within the LGBT community, there is an additional stigma to being gay driven by a machismo prevalent in their cultures. This dynamic drives many to live a closeted existence and often makes these groups more susceptible to STDs including HIV.

Thrown in, the LGBT community is also not free of the racism that many Hispanics and African Americans endure. Often, minorities within the gay community find it difficult to connect within a primarily "Abercrombie-obsessed" ideal of beauty. Many Latinos and blacks complain that they are approached by gay white men whose attraction to them could be described as a fetish.

Recently, sites have begun to spring up to address the special concerns of these communities. QV Magazine, an online publication expected to launch in Spring 2009 plans to provide special coverage of issues that impact gay Latino men.

Yet for every QV Magazine, there are still more minority groups within the gay community who do not have a place of their own online. Lesbians of color, African American gay men and trangenders of different ethnic groups still need their own place on the web. With the infinite space available, it's just a matter of time before content is created to address their unique needs.

The New Record Label - You

A group of friends hanging by a river were horsing around when they came up with a song as they were jamming. One of the men in the group pulled out his cell phone and recorded it. Everyone loved it and they forwarded it to eachother as a ringtone. And they forwarded it to friends, and then their friends forwarded it and so on and so on. Within a few months, that song would be uploaded to Youtube and played over a half million times with fans posting their own music videos. The song eventually becomes a Top 10 hit in both the US and Mexico on Billboard's Latin Music List. Sound unlikely?

Well this is real. This scenario happend to an amateur Mexican regional grupero band called Los Picadientes de Caborca (The Caborca teeth-pickers.) This assortment of musical rejects now find themselves on tour and having daily phone interviews with radio DJs while being chased by fans. The best part - they don't have to share any profits from sales of their single, La Cumbia del Rio, with a record company. In fact, record companies are stalking them to get in on the action.

The web's transformative power on the music industry is so prolific that new models of doing business are explored every day. Just two months ago, Cucu Diamantes, a relatively well-known singer and former front woman of a Latin band, Yerba Buena, launched her solo album, Cuculand, exclusively online with the help on iTunes and MySpace. Her video for her single, Mas Fuerte, is now a Top 20 video favorite.

What all this means for Hispanic music lovers is that there will be more options for them and less control on the type of music we gain access to by the music labels. Now our biggest challenge is finding all of this great music, which is a fun problem to have.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Multicultural Center of Excellence

During this recession, corporations are likely reevaluating the personnel they appoint to manage their multicultural efforts. Efficiencies influence whether a company designates an internal diversity marketing professional or integrates those duties within the general market. Businesses who value their sales performance should avoid the perils of the latter option.

Employing sophisticated, fully integrated and effective marketing efforts against multicultural consumers requires a center of excellence. A center of excellence (COE) is a person (or team) armed with consumer and cultural insights. The COE understands the benefits that his/her company provides multicultural audiences and can translate those benefits in terms the audience can comprehend. The COE does not translate or adapt general market work exclusively for the sake of integration. He/she does so because that work contains universal truths that transcend culture. And when that work does not translate pan-culturally, the COE makes a case for the development of relevant work. The COE has the power and stature within the organization to influence change. The COE also treats his multicultural agency like a partner and empowers them to do good work; supporting their efforts within his organization. The COE does these things not to stroke his/her own ego, but because it’s right for the business.

Marketers without a multicultural center of excellence will often fail to understand the difference between ethno-centricity/stereotypes and cultural relevance. Bogged down with other priorities, these “integrated” efforts result in a flowchart where diversity is a line item. Creative assets are adapted to minimize resources regardless of whether the creative works or not. Cultural relevance? Who cares, so long as these consumers know the price is $9.99. If creative targeted to these ethnic segments is required by senior management, the marketer responsible for these efforts evaluates the cultural relevance based on the number of stereotypes inserted in a :30 spot. Family with abuelita – check. Sombrero – check. Fast salsa music – check. As for reaching acculturating Hispanics or African Americans – why bother? They are already covered by your general market plans. Who cares if you can customize these efforts to be more persuasive? As for multicultural agencies - they are just annoying vendors. Life would be easier if you only had to work with one agency, right?

No doubt there are companies who hire dedicated multicultural marketing professionals who do bad work. They hired the wrong person. And I’m sure that there are companies out there who do good work without a center of excellence. They got lucky! But by and large, I continue to believe that companies who invest in true multicultural expertise and develop a center of excellence are those who are most successful. Make an assessment of your company or your client’s company. Who manages their multicultural efforts? Is it a center of excellence or is it “integrated?”

Evolving the Television vs. Internet Mindset

The other day I met with a new client to share my thoughts on how they should address young Hispanic women. As we spoke about this Latina's relationship with their beauty product category, I shared a list of prioritized media channels where they could reach her during each phase of the purchase-decision process. Despite this approach, the client insisted we choose between television or internet given their limited resources.

My answer: do both, or don't do either.

More and more data points to the fact that television and internet concurrent usage builds "engagement" with the audience. It allows the brand to associate with relevant content, and then begin an interactive dialogue with the audience online. While TV is great at building familiarity with a massive audience, online is where she shares her opinions on this content. Online also is the key place where she is researching and comparing product benefits and costs.

In this specific case, if the client were to only do one of these channels instead of the other, it would be difficult to see the sales movement they expect. It's not to say that it's always required to do both TV and Internet to reach Hispanic women - that's preposterous and totally dependent on the objectives and the specific target. But we in the Hispanic market also tend to forget that there are other channels in our tool box for reaching Hispanic audiences outside of television. Also, internet is not replacing TV either - the channels fill different needs in our consumer's lives.

It is important to remember that during these tough economic times, that cutting corners in marketing doesn't always pay off.

As mom always says, do your best or don't do anything at all.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Latino Smart Phone Usage

Latinos are snapping up smart phones at a rapid pace and using these phones to surf the web more often than the general population. One of my first posts, Why the iPhone is Latino discussed the high percent of Hispanic ownership of the iPhone. I argued that it was an affordable status symbol.

Today, I revise my thinking to say that it's not just a badge to make us feel good. It's also a computer in our pocket so we can "stay connected." The Mintel Study found that Hispanics who use the Internet devote nearly three times as much time weekly to browsing websites on their cell phones (1.1 hours versus 0.4 hours for non-Hispanics).

Why do we do this? Well we Hispanics certainly stay connected with more people on average than the general market. But I have a feeling that our usage of these technologies has less to do with our culture, than our age. The Hispanic median age is 26.7 vs. 37 for the general market. Younger folks tend to be more tech savvy and enjoy connecting with family and friends via the web. My hypothesis, since Hispanics are younger - our age, not our culture, make us have a greater propensity to do things like surfing the web on our phones.

Hispanic Movie Viewers

Hispanics are avid movie watchers and no doubt helped the fourth installment of Fast & Furious become #1 at the box office this weekend. In 2007, Nielsen EDI estimated that Hispanics accounted for 33% of all moviegoers. That is more than double what Hispanics represent to the national population.

To understand the scale of this, Hispanics purchased 297 million movie tickets in 2007 compared to 150 million for African Americans. Hispanics also go to the movies more often purchasing 10.8 tickets per person vs. 7.9 for the general population.

The importance of Hispanics to Hollywood is clear. Given our propensity for downloading content online, it seems natural that the movie business should be catering to this audience online. Yet movies distribution on the web is still a frontier of pirated content. No studio is willing to release the grip of movies on the internet because of fear that their industry will go the way of the music business.

While certainly this is a realistic fear - Apple's itunes proved that digital content distribution can be profitable if properly managed. If movie studios don't make the first move soon on the web, no doubt tech savvy Hispanics will do the job for them and likely will choose a free content based model.