Hispanic tweens: Ten years later

By Juan Faura (HispanicInsightReport.com)

Back in the late 1999s or early 2000s Hispanic teens and tweens were a hot commodity when it came to marketing to Hispanics, much like I am certain they are now.  We spent millions, countless time and effort to come up with what we believed to be a true representation of what at the time made up the largest percentage of the US Hispanic population.  We conducted traditional quantitative analysis for major soft drink companies, sports brands, clothing brands, automotive, etc.  All with the idea that these young people would eventually grow into full-fledged consumers and that by building a certain loyalty with them at this point would get them to grow up to be faithful brand ambassadors for whatever product we were trying to sell.  At Cheskin and Cultura we came at them from all angles.  Aside from traditional quantitative and qualitative methodologies we employed cutting edge technology.  Digital recorders, ethnographic studies in which we embedded ourselves in whatever activity they might be engaged in (sometimes at the edge of keeping it legal), observational studies where we simply lived as flies on the wall wherever they were, anything that we believed would provide us with a true look at whatever they happened to be doing.  The idea, in the end, was to obtain a picture, as unadulterated as it could be, of where these guys were and where they were headed from a cultural standpoint.  In some ways I am disappointed because there was no way for us to tell than a mere four years later the teen/tween landscape would undergo such a profound and important shift in how teens and tweens, in particular, would evolve.  There is another side of me, however, that feels fortunate to have been able to study and analyze this enigmatic group of young Hispanics right as they were about to come over the hill and into the  technological revolution that has completely absorbed their lives because it has allowed me to do a comparison, a true comparison of what a tween was back then and what a tween is now.

Back at the turn of the 20th century human beings, tweens included, still relied on face to face contact in order to have social interaction.  Oh, we had computers and cell phones and laptops, but for the most part social interaction still included being physically present.  Today, you’d have to be living under a rock to not realize the impact that social media has had on what we now understand social interaction to mean.  Hispanic tweens if no other group out there, know better than most how technology has transformed social media.

Remember, back when i spoke with these guys there was no Facebook, no iPhone, no My Space, not the way we have them now, so when a discussion came up, ANY discussion that related to interhuman relations there was a natural leaning by our young friends to make reference to an actual person to person contact.   When we talked about what for them was their soul, their group, the group they hung out with it was also implied that when we spoke of a group of people, people they saw at school, at the mall, but people.  Not having our crystal ball in order, there was no way for us to foresee an instance or a social phenomenon where social interactions would be redefined fundamentally.  Oh the questions we could have asked.  Alas, we did not yet know about what was coming, the perfect storm of technology, social redefinition and instant access to global information that has now yielded the still growing tsunami of social media.

What we do have is those that are left and the ability to compare some of the things that they said before to what they say now.  There is a huge report on the topic, but i will give you the highlights only.  Kids, moving into their tween years have had as their central element of influence their parents, the television their parents allowed them to watch and obviously the influence that comes through the front door by way of the friends that they hung out with at school.  To those of us who observed this, and there were a lot of us, these young people were  going through a crossroads.  These kids were absolutely aware of their ethnicity, some more than others, some were more active in it than others, some were more defined by it than others.

Looking at those young people at that time i knew as the went on to develop into Hispanic teens or young adults based on how all those influences we saw infiltrating their lives played into the decisions they made based on how their various social groups developed.  After looking at everything, as many variables as we could possibly look at, what we kept coming back to was their peer groups, however their ethnic influence was going to be internalized it would be guided and absorbed in whatever the most advantageous way the group decided that it should be.  As much as we wanted to observe was a sense of personal responsibility and authentic ethnic identity develop in these young men and women.  It simply wasn’t there, their social realm was what ruled the way in which they would go on to develop.  It never came to it that, but now truth be told, i wished i had asked the question “Looking at the next five years, do you see yourself feeling more Hispanic, feeling more American or feeling more ‘goth’ more gay, etc.”  I wish i had asked the question because it is my firm belief that the answer would have been that they would feel more defined by whatever social group they best felt defined by.  Just like their non-Hispanic counterparts.  Who knew that within just three years of that the very fabric of social content gathering and particularly sharing would change fundamentally and therefore would forever have an effect on how our guys would go into the brave new world.

What i really have come to develop a sense of wonder about is the fact that now that we are speaking with these 22, 23 and 24 year olds they seem to embrace their ethnicity with a much more natural ‘ease’ I suppose you could call it.  It would be a fair point to bring up whether it might not be possible for this to be the case regardless of what technological advances were on the horizon?  The answer, as i see it, is that no it is unlikely, based on the conversations we have had with these young folks.

You see when we think about social media as a technology we think of it in the context how it facilitates social interactions, after all, what was one would imagine its ultimate goal, we further define those interactions as the flow of information passing across the groups’ members.  It was difficult then as a social scientist and marketer to really figure out where ethnicity fit within all of this exchange of information.  After all if we regarded ethnicity as just another element of the information stream constantly flowing across social media we might assume that as a great deal of of the information that flows in the electron river it would become adaptable white noise, bits and pieces to be arbitrated, decided upon as useful or unseful and then catalogued or discarded.  What we have found is that ethnicity permeates those streams of information that are in constant flow, it doesn’t run next to them it runs within them.

What this means is that recognizing ethnicity as a part of the flow of data among young Hispanics today rather than as something to be inserted artificially is critical to developing successful social media campaigns aimed at them.  It is the most remarkable case of ’stay out of your own way’ that i can think of.  The thing that makes social media such a difficult medium to master, it is not because there are not enough forms of it to go around or enough permutation, the last always more clever than the one before, no the reason social media when it comes to Hispanic teens and tweens and those who were not too long ago Hispanic teens and tweens is that sometimes the best move to make, the best way to show a true understanding of ethnicity is by doing nothing at all.

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