At the end of last year, I wrote a blog post on whether messaging in Spanish is still relevant to Hispanic audiences. I concluded that the Hispanic population will likely take a similar path in decline of native language that the Italian, German and Polish immigrants took with their own languages not too long ago. I also pointed out an important statistic from a 2013 Pew research study; Hispanic audiences are increasingly consuming media in English..
Also in 2013, we saw the launch of CNN Latino and NBC Latino. CNN Latino was a channel that broadcast news in Spanish. NBC Latino was a news website in English with a focus on Hispanic content. Total bust. Both projects lasted about a year.
So what can we learn from CNN Latino and NBC Latino? As one of the NBC Latino ex-staffers put it, “one of those weaknesses is a failure, at times, to grasp what people care about.” In other words, when it comes to Hispanic audiences the discussion should really focus more on content than language. Hispanic markets vary in the spectrum of bilingualism (Miami versus El Paso, for example) and when people working with Hispanics focus on what language to put messaging in, they’re missing the point.
Hispanics are Mexican, Cuban, Puerto-Rican, Panamanian, Costa-Rican, Guatemalan, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Chilean, Colombian, and on and on and on. They are Caucasian, African-American, Indigenous, Asian and everything in between. They are fluent in English and they do not speak English. They just arrived in the U.S. and they are fourth-generation Americans.
I do not wish to undermine the importance of thinking of language when coming up with messaging for this audience. However, when discussion surrounding Hispanic audiences revolves solely on language and slapping on a ‘Latino’ stamp it will fail. And it will fail because it is disrespectful. It shows no understanding, let alone respect, of the multiculturalism that characterizes and pervades the audience. Lumping Mexicans and Cubans in one group is like calling Canadian and American culture the same.
In my view, CNN Latino and NBC Latino failed miserably at understanding the nuances of Hispanic audiences. I suspect they accidentally alienated Latinos by telling them regular CNN and NBC is just not good enough for them. NBC Latin regurgitated many English stories and threw in what they believed was a Latino filter, amplifying the sense of segregation. CNN Latino forgot their target audience isn’t interested in consuming traditional media. In the end, they failed on spending time and energy on understanding their consumer. From a cultural perspective, Hispanics live in at least two worlds and it is necessary to speak with them in the same way.