With Google in the Game, Will Hispanic Digital (Finally) Grow?

By Chiqui Cartagena (Ad Age)

Last week Google hosted its first marketing forum dedicated to the U.S. Hispanic market. Braving the streets of New York after almost 20 inches of snow had fallen, several hundred professionals showed up, and that’s because when Google talks, people listen.

“The idea was to communicate Google’s commitment to this audience and to share best practices in the US Hispanic digital space,” said Mark Lopez, who left Hispanic portal Terra.com last November to head up this new “specialist” team for Google. The goal of the forum was twofold: 1) to drive home the point that Hispanic audiences, especially younger Latinos, consume digital media first — before TV and other media, and 2) that Hispanic marketers, media buyers and planners should rethink the role of digital in their media mix to reflect the reality of their audiences.

Neither concept is new; research from E-marketer, Forrester, the IAB and others has been showing this for at least a couple years now. But for people who work in the Hispanic digital space, like me, the fact that Google is now saying it will make a huge difference. Why? Because it’s Google, man! If Univision and Telemundo had said this, it wouldn’t matter as much. Honestly, it would be perceived as just Spanish-language media trying to expand its reach online.

But this is Google, the company that revolutionized the way we use the internet — no matter what Facebook fans say. And this is big — an acknowledgment of the growing importance of the Hispanic market and its youth, which is more digitally savvy than the general market.

Google’s goal, of course, is to increase the overall share of marketing dollars dedicated to Hispanic digital from a measly 3% to 4% of total Hispanic ad spend to about 12%, which corresponds to the actually usage of the medium by Hispanic consumers.

“This not about dropping everything else and doing only digital,” conceded Lopez. “It is about looking at the U.S. Hispanic audience from a planning and creative perspective, holistically. … Look at where the audience is consuming media today. … Hispanics [who are] 18-34 are vastly different than they were five or 10 years ago. … They put digital first, so we need to understand where the audience is and how we can we reach them effectively with a relevant message.”

In addition to best practices shared by TV Azteca and BabyCenter.com, Google presented its own research findings “The Four Truths of Hispanics Online” based on proprietary research (both quantitative and ethnographic) they conducted on Hispanics online last Fall. The topline results of the research findings can be found onĀ YouTube (of course).

Not once, during the whole day, did the question of language come up. Why? Because it doesn’t matter! It is not about language. It’s about culture, and the many ways we express it: in English, in Spanish and yes, in Spanglish (as much as I hate it!).

It’s also about the growth of digital video. The TV Azteca presentation blew me away — although it mainly focused on what the company is doing in Mexico, I believe the next big thing in the Hispanic market is video online. And I don’t mean putting TV clips online; I mean creating original content for the online audience. Guess what: What applies to the general market when it comes to engagement applies to Hispanics too. Who knew?

I am convinced that 2011 will be they year Hispanic marketers see the value of online video. And let’s not forget mobile — after a decade of saying it’s coming, it’s really coming now, so you’d better be ready for it. Marketers like Kraft and General Mills have already seen the light and have dedicated more of their budgets to digital efforts. Now it’s time for the rest of the market to wake up and step up.

By its own admission, Google is late to the game. It was only a year and a half ago, that the company realized that the Hispanic audiences were just “too big to ignore,” according to John Farrell, general manager of Google in Mexico, who hosted of this gathering last week. With 30 million Hispanics online, the U.S. Hispanic market is now equal in size to the Mexican online market. Add to that the projected growth of the Hispanic population from the Census due to be released later this year and you can easily see why Google is getting into the Hispanic game.

What impressed me most, however, was Google’s steadfast commitment to our market. According to Google, Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment for Google. Not only has it hired one of the brightest minds in the space to lead its efforts, Mr. Lopez confirmed that he was looking to increase his team significantly and possibly open an office in Miami. I, for one, welcome Google with open arms. Because when Google gets serious, so will other big players.

Here’s to hoping that the rising tide created by Google, will lift all of our boats.

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