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How McDonald’s and TikTok are winning with Hispanic and Latino consumers

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By Kendra Clark | Senior Reporter

December 8, 2021 | 12 min read

The global Hispanic and Latino diaspora is expanding rapidly. Connecting with this highly diverse, multicultural and multilingual segment can prove extremely challenging for brands, many of whom are still aiming to reach these consumers by simply translating ‘general market’ messages into Spanish. The brands that are successfully connecting with and deriving real value from Hispanic and Latino audiences, however, have adopted a much more thoughtful approach. Here’s how McDonald’s and TikTok are succeeding and why.

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TikTok put out a range of creative assets as part of multichannel campaign ‘De Nada America’

As a whole, Hispanic and Latino Americans are the second-largest ethnic group in the US, making up nearly 20% of the total population. However, only about 6% of marketing spend is invested in this community.

It’s clear that there’s a gap to be bridged. But what factors account for this disconnect – and how are today’s media companies, brands and ad agencies approaching the challenge of bridging the gap?

According to the Hispanic Marketing Council, a national trade organization whose mission it is to center Hispanic consumers in marketers’ strategies and growth plans, the central problem lies in brands misunderstanding the market and as a result failing to dedicate adequate resources to connecting with Hispanic and Latino audiences.

“There is a vast and unacceptable gap between 5% [of resources being used for Hispanic marketing budgets] and 20% [of the population comprising Hispanic people], despite countless ROI studies showing that allocations of between 15-20% are needed to drive real bottom-line growth in the Hispanic market,” says the council’s chair Gonzalo del Fa. “Brands have a social and business imperative to make responsible and intentional investments to levels that are in line with the percentage of the business that our audiences represent. Cultural literacy and appropriate Hispanic investments are necessary to drive bottom-line growth. And the bottom line is that these endemic gaps are costing companies millions of dollars every year in unrealized growth.”

Recent US Census data reveals that the non-Hispanic white population has decreased by nearly 5 million people in the last decade. Plus, among those 17 and younger, a majority already identify as multicultural. As such, del Fa argues, “our definition of ‘mass market’ or ‘general market’ needs to change.” He says that for brands to succeed in the future, they need to act with urgency to create messages that resonate with Hispanic audiences.

And some brands are leading the charge.

McDonald’s: a track record of driving change

McDonald’s is among a handful of brands with a long history of investing in and supporting Hispanic and Latino consumers. For the past 35 years, the company has helped Hispanic and Latino high school students go to college with its Hacer National Scholarship program, which includes scholarship and funding opportunities as well as a range of educational resources.

The brand’s efforts are also apparent in its marketing. Earlier this year, the fast food giant debuted ‘Ritmo y Color,’ an immersive series of pop-up activations and music designed to spotlight the stories of Latino people, starring emerging musicians including Manuel Turizo, Cazzu and Mariah Angeliq, as well as visual artists Gonzo 247, Rigo Leon and Kelly Perez. The initiative came less than a year after the brand teamed up with Colombian rapper J Balvin to create ‘Dorado,’ a musical campaign that celebrates the spirit and optimism of the Latino community.

And behind the scenes, the company is also on a mission to diversify its marketing supply chain. A spokesperson for the brand tells The Drum that the company is assembling a board of external industry experts to help dismantle barriers to growth for diverse-owned companies. The initiative is an extension of McDonald’s history of partnering with Hispanic marketing agencies including Loud & Live, Boden and Alma, as well as its work with the Association of National Advertisers to drive change in the ad industry.

The company’s spokesperson says that effective marketing to and for Latino and Hispanic audiences goes beyond the transactional and requires authentic, culturally-conscious relationship-building. In particular, they said it’s important for marketers to try to connect with these audiences in ways that meet them where they are, speak to what they care about and help them achieve their goals.

Where platforms come into play

Platforms, too, are leaning into the challenge of connecting with and supporting Latino and Hispanic Audiences. TikTok has been a leader on this front of late.

In August the company teamed with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) to launch Creciendo con TikTok, a grant program with a $150,000 investment fund to recognize and support Latino small businesses and entrepreneurs impacted by the pandemic. TikTok and HHF selected 30 small business owners from across the US to receive $5,000 grants, in partnership with the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Latino Business Action Network.

And to aid in the growth of Latino creators and in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month in September, the platform – in partnership with Eva Longoria’s production company UnbeliEVAble Entertainment and global media brand Macro – launched TikTok Latinx Creatives. The initiative is a ten-week incubator program designed to develop economic opportunities for and amplify the voices of Hispanic and Latino creators and artists. It entails career-building resources and programs, including events, town halls, forums and more.

As an extension of its Hispanic Heritage Month efforts, TikTok partnered with creative agency The Community to develop special-edition stickers to celebrate Latino and Hispanic history, traditions and culture. It also put out a range of creative assets as part of a multichannel campaign called ‘De Nada America,’ meaning ‘You’re Welcome, America,’ highlighting what Latino and Hispanic creativity and innovation have brought to the United States. Assets included creative made by Brazilian-American designer and artist Niege Borges.

The Community’s chief executive Luis Montero tells The Drum that the success of the campaign hinged on the same cultural capital and commitment to authenticity evidenced in McDonald’s efforts. “TikTok was able to [succeed in this campaign] because they have an authentic connection to the community,” says Montero. “So, for other brands to get there, it’s about progressively and credibly building that authenticity. Most brands are not in a place where they can fully transcend all cultural communities with a singular mass market message anyway. They likely need to establish cultural credibility first – in parallel [with] a more inclusive overall approach – which takes time and consistent, intentional behavior.” Montero says that many successful brands have switched their strategies to lead with Hispanic-focused messaging in their mass market efforts.

Content about and for Latinos is exploding on TikTok: hashtags including #Latino, #Latina, #Familia, #Comida, #Hispanic and #FamiliaLatina have spiked by 185% across the platform since Hispanic Heritage Month 2020. The hashtag #Latina has 37.6bn views, #Latino has more than 25.7bn views and #Familia has gained 26.4bn views. Just last month, the platform rolled out its new Spanish Sounds Page in collaboration with Latin Grammy Week to provide Spanish speakers with a centralized, accessible database of sounds and music to explore.

And according to TikTok’s global head of business marketing Sofia Hernandez, the platform not only uplifts Latino and Hispanic creators, but is also focused on making its platform a competitive place for marketers to connect with Hispanic and Latino audiences. “TikTok is full of what we call ‘CommunityToks,’ where the community comes together to engage in similar interests,” she says. “Those conversations are rooted in authenticity and realness, which opens up a wealth of topics brands can lean into to uniquely connect with the Latinx community. It’s time for marketers to think beyond language, beyond acculturation buckets, and really lean into real conversations about the things that matter to the Latinx community at large.”

The recipe for success

Though both the McDonald’s and TikTok stories highlight that a key component of reaching Hispanic and Latino audiences through marketing is establishing authentic connections, it’s not the only approach.

José Villa, founder and chief strategy officer at Sensis, a Los Angeles-based media agency that recently acquired Hispanic agency PM3, says that in general there are three strategic approaches that marketers take in reaching Hispanic and Latino audiences. One is through ‘inclusive’-focused general market advertising that focuses on diverse representation. The second aims to tailor messaging and marketing specifically to distinct Hispanic or Latino audiences. The third, he argues, is “cross-marketing based on Hispanic cultural insights that reaches across mainstream and Hispanic segments.”

The route – or routes – that a given brand chooses to pursue should be determined based on the brand’s unique relationship with Hispanic and Latino audiences and with whom they’d like to connect, says Villa. He caveats, however, that focusing on the first mode – investing primarily in representation – can be dangerous.

“The major gap that exists is due to simply focusing on representation in the first form of ‘inclusive’ marketing. Effectively engaging Hispanics is about much more than representation. We see this most commonly in casting Hispanics in mainstream advertising. This is akin to tokenism and does little to truly connect with Hispanics.”

And other experts agree that representation alone is far from enough. “In this time of racial awakening, consumers are demanding equality and proper representation coupled with culturally competent, responsible, authentic and sustainable efforts from marketers speaking to all ethnicities and cultural groups, of which Hispanics represent the largest and fastest-growing segment,” says the Hispanic Marketing Council’s del Fa. “This can only be achieved by brands that put cultural insights at the heart of all their marketing outreach and understand that marketing to Hispanics is a business imperative for long-term growth and relevance.”

Get it right or get canceled

For brands, the stakes are higher than ever, says del Fa. “In today’s climate, industry organizations and leaders are watching the moves of marketers and cancel culture among Hispanic consumers is high for those that get it wrong. Without overt and focused efforts coupled with investment targeting Hispanics, many brand’s marketing efforts will remain out of tune and out of touch, and will cost them their share of the $8tn of spending power held by multicultural consumers.”

This is, of course, not to say that representation does nothing to move the needle. Karina Dobarro, executive vice-president and managing partner of multicultural at Horizon Media, says: “Hispanics continue to be secondary or supporting characters rarely portrayed in leading roles or telling their own cultural stories – not only in entertainment, but also in advertising. More marketers need to lead in creating authentic stories to engage and empower the Latinx community.”

The key, per experts, is to invest in representation that is not monolithic or based in stereotypes. “Marketing, in my opinion, suffers from one affliction: homogeneous predictability,” says Ana Ceppi, senior advisor, Hispanic at Edelman. “The current rigidity around ‘multicultural marketing’ yields only a single storyline for a population of 62 million people and operates under the assumption that all Latinos are the same. Tropes like soccer, abuelas and familias are commonplace, but that grossly singular perspective ... does not reflect our lives.”

The key takeaway? Invest in real market research, bring Latino and Hispanic decision-makers into the process and develop genuine relationships with Hispanic and Latino consumers in order to speak to them in relevant ways that resonate with them. The ‘mass market’ or vague ‘multicultural’ approach does little to create genuine connections between brands and Hispanic and Latino audiences.

As Mingthoy Sanjur, senior strategist at VMLY&R, puts it: “An ’18-25 Latinx’ target [could include] a third-generation Brazilian-American living in New York who has never left the US, the firstborn child of a Mexican immigrant family in California who is the only member of his household who speaks fluent English, and a freshly-arrived Colombian-American who has never lived in the US before and is starting freshman year of college.”

She echoes what other leaders in the space say: brands that think they can simply translate a one-size-fits-all message to Spanish and see real success are in for an unpleasant surprise. “It is virtually impossible to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and create genuine, authentic work at the same time.”

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