Continued from Part One
The History of Marketing to "Minorities"
For years there was what ad agencies called an "ethnic budget" created to cater to all "non-white" people in America. Apparently blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans all had one thing in common -- we were not white. This was incredibly ironic for the Native Americans, considering they are indigenous to this country.
Then marketing budgets split in two. There was a "Hispanic budget," which was meant for "Spanish-language" outlets, and an "urban budget," which in the minds of many marketers meant "angry black people." The new trend in 2013 seems to be the "multicultural budget," designed to encompass all "non-white" people. Sounds like we are back to square one and the "ethnic budget."
Some marketers are now going as far as to say that Hispanics don't need a special budget, as they are now part of the "Mainstream." I'd actually agree with this logic, if those same people made sure that the "Mainstream" was a level playing field that had Latino executives, writers, producers, actresses, actors and directors who were able to tell a variety of stories from their perspectives. Again we have a case of people being neither fast nor furious to understand and capture an opportunity.
There Are Bright Spots
The years from 2000-2004 were banner years for Latino TV writers, producers and talent. Latino themed series Taina, An American Family, The Brothers Garcia, Dora the Explorer and Resurrection Boulevard were all on the air. Presently there are more Latinos on TV but no Latino themed television shows. And on the big screen? This year, Argo, the story of a CIA operative, who happened to be Latino, won accolades and every entertainment award imaginable. I forgive Ben Affleck for playing Tony Mendez, but will draw the line should he try and play Benito Juarez.
We have a few new young actresses and actors that are starting to break out. And we have made some progress in other ways. Nowadays we don't get killed in the first act of the movies, we often get to live until the third act (see End of Watch and Battle LA).
Yes, there has been progress, we just need more, and in a time frame more in-line with "internet time."
There are several Latino organizations whose mission it is to make sure that Hollywood gets it right. I applaud the valiant effort of these organizations. They chose to take on the behemoths of media and politics, which is not an easy task. But at the end of the day, there needs to be tangible results. Perhaps it's time for a new generation of young tech savvy, entrepreneurial and politically minded Latinos and Latinas to step in and take the reins. If we use a critical eye to look at the shortcomings of those outside our community, we also need to set the bar higher for those inside our community.
If we don't create a new paradigm, twenty years from now we will look back and still be living in a "singular story," where the multitude of cultural cadences rather than being encouraged, will be diminished. Because cultures do have "cadences."
You hear it in music. Brad Paisley has a different cadence than Shakira, who has a different one than Lil Wayne. Sofia Vergara, Gwyneth Paltrow and Nia Long all bring a different flavor to the party. Comics have cadences as well. Larry David's cadence is very different from Chris Rock's, which varies from that of George Lopez. None are necessarily better than the other, only different. The problem begins when Hollywood executives believe their cultural cadence is better and that the "beats" of other storytellers and performers will not do for the masses.
Perhaps the best way to understand this is to use this analogy: Imagine hiring a non-Latino to DJ a party full of Latinos. The DJ might open with the "Macarena," followed perhaps by an old Santana song and then by Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca." They would do that because what else could they do? That's all they know, that's the depth of their Latino experience for the most part. This is what happens in Hollywood when people try and program to a group they haven't the slightest clue into, but believe they do.
I have hope all this will change, just by looking at the failures in other sectors of this business. The record business ignored the warnings of the digital era and downloading. The movie business didn't believe DVD sales would fall off a cliff so quickly and broadcasters thought cable TV was a joke. Cable TV even laughed at the thought of broadband becoming the norm. They are all now feeling the impact of being re-active rather than pro-active.
I remain optimistic. I believe technology and market economics will drive a new paradigm. Let's face it, entertainment executives have gotten dumber yet TVs and cell phones have gotten "smarter." The playing field will level out and create a multitude of "cross-cultural" stories and fresh voices that resonate with the "New General Market," the "New Mainstream," because we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. As Pope John Paul II so eloquently stated, "The future starts today, not tomorrow." Adelante!