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University of California Press
Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People / Edition 1

Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People / Edition 1

by Arlene Dávila
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Both Hollywood and corporate America are taking note of the marketing power of the growing Latino population in the United States. And as salsa takes over both the dance floor and the condiment shelf, the influence of Latin culture is gaining momentum in American society as a whole. Yet the increasing visibility of Latinos in mainstream culture has not been accompanied by a similar level of economic parity or political enfranchisement.
In this important, original, and entertaining book, Arlene Dávila provides a critical examination of the Hispanic marketing industry and of its role in the making and marketing of U.S. Latinos.

Dávila finds that Latinos' increased popularity in the marketplace is simultaneously accompanied by their growing exotification and invisibility. She scrutinizes the complex interests that are involved in the public representation of Latinos as a generic and culturally distinct people and questions the homogeneity of the different Latino subnationalities that supposedly comprise the same people and group of consumers.
In a fascinating discussion of how populations have become reconfigured as market segments, she shows that the market and marketing discourse become important terrains where Latinos debate their social identities and public standing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520274693
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 09/01/2012
Edition description: First Edition, Updated Edition, with a New Preface
Pages: 330
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Arlene Dávila is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at New York University.She is the author of Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico(1997).

Read an Excerpt

Latinos, Inc.

The Marketing and Making of a People

By Arlene Dávila


Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95359-8


Don't Panic, I'm Hispanic"

The Trends and Economy of Cultural Flows

Today 50% of all bookings at Radio City Music Hall are Hispanic artists. Salsa outsells ketchup in the Midwest. Nachos beat hot-dogs at movies. What's happening? Simple: A cultural and marketing phenomenon known as the U.S. Hispanic market.

Bromley Aguilar Associates, media kit, 1999

Hispanic marketing is now a multibillion dollar industry, spread throughout Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, New York, and every other center with a large concentration of Latina populations. Some thirty-five years ago, however, what is now considered one of the fastest growing segments of the marketing industry was primarily fueled by a handful of recently arrived immigrants of mostly Cuban origin who struggled to promote the profitability and even existence of this language- and culture-specific market. This first generation has since attained an almost mythic status in the Hispanic advertising industry. They are considered its founding figures and credited both with the industry's gains, including its current profitability, as well as its evils, such as the stereotypes bequeathed to younger generations, making them a natural starting point for delving into the industry's origins and present scope.

This chapter provides an overview of some recurring issues affecting the growth and current operations of the Hispanic marketing industry. It is informed by interviews and conversations with some of these founding figures, who, when recalling their experiences, brought up many continuities with the present. Recurring issues in their discussions suggest that the industry faced similar dilemmas from the outset. Among these issues are the continued marginality of the Hispanic advertising industry vis-à-vis the general market and its structural vulnerability stemming from its long-time dependence on a static and marketable vision of what is, in fact, a fluid and heterogeneous population. As I argue below, this dependence, directly informed by U.S. paradigms of racial and ethnic organization, sustains ongoing disjunctures between a coveted Hispanic public and those seeking to speak for and about it. These discussions also revealed that the Hispanic marketing industry, like any culture industry, does not simply manufacture cultural symbols and ideas, but simultaneously reflects dominant hierarchies of representation and the greater political economy structures affecting the commodification of Hispanics in this country.

To emphasize these issues, I forego a strictly chronological account of the industry's origins and instead draw from these narratives some introductory segments on trends that were repeatedly mentioned as having had the greatest effect on the industry's establishment and ensuing development. These include the Latin American foundations of the U.S. Spanish TV networks and of the marketing industry and its organization along ethnic and linguistic lines, the growth and consolidation of the category of "Hispanic" for peoples of Latin American background in this country, and global trends affecting the advertising industry at large.


Latin America has always figured prominently in the imagery of Latinas in this country and, as will become evident later, a great part of the Hispanic media's mission and function has been to serve as the venue in which U.S.-based Hispanics can consume and experience Latin America from within the U.S. context. One of the great contradictions of the U.S. Hispanic media, however, has been that while supposedly geared to the United States and not Latin America, it has nonetheless been highly dependent on transnational Latin American media conglomerates and developments, dynamics which the United States has been very much involved in fostering. This is evident in the evolution of the Spanish TV networks, the most important force behind the growth of a culturally specific U.S. Hispanic market.

While advertising for U.S. Hispanic populations dates back to the very origins of Spanish-language media at the turn of the twentieth century, commercial broadcasting and national television networks provided the greatest impetus to the growth of Hispanic advertising as a specialized industry, as they did for the advertising industry in general. This began in the 1960s, when independent brokers began buying intermittent time from English stations for Spanish TV and culminated in the creation of the Spanish International Network (SIN), later renamed Univision, and of Telemundo, national networks that now have subsidiaries and affiliated stations throughout the continental United States.

To understand the impact of these national networks, we need to consider that prior to their development, marketing to Hispanics was mostly a local endeavor. Former staff of the few New York City Hispanic advertising agencies that existed in the 1960s recalled that their business was centered on local radio stations and was highly dependent on direct promotions through bodegas, Puerto Rican–owned markets that proliferated in New York's Puerto Rican neighborhoods during the 1950s. Network television, however, quickly transformed advertising into a national endeavor. Not only did it create a dependable and steady base for placing advertising by providing continuous programming for Spanish-speaking populations, but it also formed the basis for the conceptualization of Hispanics as a nationwide community, linked and imagined by the networks.

This development dates to 1961 when Emilio Azcárraga, a Mexican television entrepreneur and the main figure behind Televisa's Mexican TV empire, purchased TV stations in San Antonio and Los Angeles, establishing SIN/SICC (Spanish International Network and Spanish International Communications Corporations). Azcárraga had long tried to import Televisa's programming into the United States, yet, faced with the undoubtedly racially motivated institutional opposition to any type of Spanish TV, he decided that buying entire stations, rather than intermittent time from American stations, would enable him to secure the importation of his programs. The purchase had to take place in association with a group of employees and business partners in order to circumvent FCC rules preventing noncitizens from owning more than 20 percent of any U.S. TV station. Despite this, Azcárraga and Televisa retained operational control of the stations, assuring the Latin American basis that has shaped the industry's subsequent growth. SIN/SICC quickly expanded to sixteen stations by the mid-1970s, and after becoming the first U.S. network connected by satellite in 1976, it became pivotal in the conceptualization of a nationwide U.S. Hispanic market.

Prior to the satellite connections, each SIN station operated independently, negotiating its own advertising contracts and programming schedule. Programs sent by SIN's network to its stations would travel from one station to another, leading each station to operate in its own time frame with respect to serials, advertising, and shows. Connection via satellite brought about a growing standardization in the programming and lowered risks in its projection, which in turn facilitated the distribution and transmission of advertising. Advertising agencies could finally negotiate with a network rather than with individual stations, and thus assure clients that their ads would reach a nationwide audience. By 1982, SIN could claim to reach 90 percent of Latina households through its sixteen-station network, its one hundred repeater stations, and more than two hundred cable systems (Rodríguez 1999: 38). Later renamed Univision, SIN attained its present reach of twenty owned and operated stations and twenty-seven affiliates throughout the United States, encompassing almost every center with a sizable Latina/Hispanic population. Thus, more than any previous medium, the networks helped forge and maintain an ethnic niche for the Hispanic market, with regard not only to the general market, but also to other minority markets, such as the African American and Asian markets, both of which lacked a national television network through which to constitute and renew a nationwide market. As one agency owner put it, "The networks meant that we existed and were here to stay."

The U.S. Spanish networks now dominate advertising budgets and thus have been most influential in the development of the Hispanic marketing industry. In particular, they have been a major force in sustaining the historically close ties between the Hispanic advertising and media industry and Latin America, thus helping to preserve the dominance of Latin American producers and productions. Univision, the highest rated Hispanic network, is a perfect example of this. Until the late 1980s, its precursor SIN/SICC served more as a receptacle for Mexican programming, with over 90 percent of its network hours devoted to programs directly aired or imported from Mexico (Avila 1997; Gutiérrez 1979). This dominance led to accusations of excessive and unlawful foreign control and even to the court-ordered sale of the network in 1986 and its acquisition by Hallmark/First Capital, which renamed it Univision. In reality, however, this change in ownership and control was just temporary: in 1992 it was bought by Jerry Perenchio, in partnership with Azcárraga's Televisa International of Mexico, which thus reacquired partial ownership of the network, and with yet another media empire in Latin America, Cisnero's Venevision Media Group of Venezuela, which also owns a sizable portion of other Latin American network stations. The Latin American transnational connections that characterized the U.S. Hispanic media market from the outset were thus quickly reestablished.

Telemundo, for its part, although always in the hands of U.S. corporations, having been launched by Reliance Capital in 1986, and recently bought by Sony, Liberty Media, Apollo Investment Fund, and Bastion Capital in 1998, has also maintained direct links with the Latin American media market. However, it was not Mexico but Puerto Rico that figured prominently in the development of what would later become Telemundo. Behind its development were media personalities like Carlos Barba, a soap opera actor in his native Cuba, who had previously worked in the development of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican television. Brought to New York by Columbia Pictures, which owned the Puerto Rican channel where he worked at the time of their purchase of New York's channel 47, Barba was soon made director of programming, consolidating the New York–Puerto Rican connection through the importation of island-made Puerto Rican programming that he thought was more relevant to the mostly Puerto Rican Latina population in the city. In contrast to SIN's mostly Mexican programming, channel 47 emphasized New York–filmed shows of Puerto Rican personalities like Mirta Silva, Boby Capó, and Polito Vega, and later the importation of Puerto Rican–produced shows like "La Taverna India," "El Show de Chucho Avellanet," and "El Show del Medio Dia," all of which kept channel 47 directly tied to Puerto Rican television. This programming synergy would continue until the channel's purchase by Telemundo Group, not surprisingly named after the Puerto Rican channel 2, whose American owners at the time were behind the establishment of the U.S. Telemundo network in 1986. After its foundation, Telemundo continued to rely mostly on Latin American programming until its acquisition by its present owners, who are discussed in a later chapter. Although aimed at the U.S. Hispanic population as a whole, its programming shifted from Puerto Rican fare to mostly Mexican and Venezuelan imports, dubbed American movies that are still key to its programming, and a few U.S.-produced shows.

The continued involvement of particular Latin American countries in the U.S. Hispanic market through Televisa or Venevision, however, could not be described as a reversal of cultural imperialism. Hollywood's exports to Mexico far exceed Mexico's involvement in the Spanish market, and U.S. investments in Mexico's cultural industries have continued to escalate after NAFTA (McAnany and Wilkinson 1996). What is undeniable is the continued merger of the U.S. Hispanic market with that of Latin America and the dominance of the Latin American media market, particularly of the countries with the strongest media empires, such as Mexico and Venezuela, in these arrangements. This undoubtedly has also led to one of the many disjunctions at play in the Latina-oriented advertising industry, consisting of the enduring gaps between the producers and consumers of these images fueled by the structural demands of an industry claiming to represent U.S. Latinas even though its very structure has historically been more directly tied to a Latin American rather than a Latina infrastructure. Among other issues, these transcontinental connections have traditionally made the Spanish language central to the market, and looked to Latin America as the source of talent and programming. Consider for instance that Univision's profitability has traditionally been predicated on its ability to show the same programming as in Latin America—also benefiting from producing in pesos and selling in dollars—instead of investing in new programming and productions. Moreover, while there has been a greater emphasis on U.S.-based productions for the U.S. market since the mid-1980s, these programs have, as I discuss later, generally been developed as potential exports with the Latin American market, not solely the U.S. Hispanic market, in mind. Univision already licenses and distributes the talk show Cristina to over eighteen countries and the four-hour game, contest, and entertainment show Sábado Gigante to twenty, while Telemundo sells its current affairs magazine Ocurrió Así to twelve foreign markets (Aponte 1998; Tobekin 1997). Similarly, the stations' all-Spanish policy has led to a heavy reliance on the artistic pool of specific Latin American countries, where "authentic" Spanish speakers are often recruited to work in the United States. Even the guests for Cristina, Sezvec, and Sábado Gigante are often brought in from Latin America to assure their acceptability for the Latin American media market. These processes will be more closely examined later. The issue here is the strong Latin American connections that have attended the growth of the U.S. Spanish network, making their development far from a U.S. self-generating process.

The development of the Hispanic advertising industry evidences similar although unique transnational trends of its own. First the industry's growth was tied to the migration of Cubans and Puerto Ricans to New York City throughout the 1950s. By the 1960s, a steady influx of mostly working-class Puerto Rican migrants fleeing massive unemployment generated by the island's development and modernization project of Operation Bootstrap had produced a sizable Spanish-speaking presence in New York, a strong incentive for entrepreneurs to develop programming and marketing for this population. Cuban immigration after the Cuban Revolution, meanwhile, brought key figures of the well-developed Cuban publicity, entertainment, and marketing industries who were ready to tap the marketing opportunities arising from the changing demographics in the city. Indeed, Cuban executives who had previously been involved in advertising and marketing in Cuba were behind the development of the first and largest advertising agencies that targeted populations of Latin American background, not only in New York City but also throughout the United States. For example, SAMS (Spanish Advertising and Marketing Services), the first and largest full-service Hispanic advertising agency in the United States, was founded in 1962 by Luis Díaz Albertini, who had worked for McCann Erickson and for J. Walter Thompson's Cuban affiliate in Havana, and later in the local Godoy and Godoy, where he handled U.S. brands such as Del Monte, Kellogg's, and Scott paper. Similarly, the founders of Conill Advertising, headed by a husband-and-wife team, had owned a successful agency in Cuba, where they marketed a variety of U.S. products for the local market as well as for other Latin American countries. Some accounts even traveled with particular advertising personalities from Cuba, as in the case of Colgate, which had previously been represented in his native Cuba by José Luis Cubas, founder of Siboney U.S.A. Thus, the dominance of Cubans in the development of the contemporary Hispanic advertising industry arose from previous attempts at globalization by the international advertising industry, whose early extension into places like Cuba and Mexico was fundamental to the subsequent development of the advertising agencies targeting U.S. Hispanic populations. Cuban publicists who would later become leading figures in the U.S. Hispanic market were not new entrants to the structures of American advertising and of its publicity industry, but had long functioned as marketing and modernizing agents at home. As such, they had previous knowledge of American corporate clients, products, and, most important, contacts in corporate America who would provide a pivotal advantage in obtaining clients and in networking for their clients. Rafael Conill, founder of Conill Advertising in 1968, which would become one of the largest Hispanic agencies by the early 1980s, was greeted at the airport upon arrival by an old American business friend from Cuba. As I was told by his wife, Alicia, this is the same friend who later helped his pitch to Campbell's Soup for the U.S. Hispanic market account. And while it took them over three years to get some business from Campbell, it was such contacts that enabled them to secure contracts with national clients.


Excerpted from Latinos, Inc. by Arlene Dávila. Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface to the 2012 Edition

Mediating Identities. Advertising: The Privilege of Commercial Discourse. Hispanic/Latino. Following the Corporate
Intellectual: Doing Fieldwork on a Fieldless Site.

Chapter 1. “Don’t Panic, I’m Hispanic”: The Trends and Economy of Cultural Flows
Shaping Hispanidad from Latin America. The Ethnic Division of Cultural Labor. The Category That Made Us the Same. Global Trends: Segmenting and Containing the Market.

Chapter 2. Knowledges: Facts and Fictions of a People as a Market
The Turn to Research. Maneuvers in the Market. And Don’t Forget That We All Eat Rice and Beans (or Habichuelas, Porotes, Frijoles . . . ).

Chapter 3. Images: Producing Culture for the Market
The Nation. The Values. Nationalism, Nostalgia, and Ethnic Pride. The Latin Look and “Walter Cronkite Spanish,”. “The Nation and Its Fragments,”.

Chapter 4. Screening the Image
Through Corporate Eyes. The Virginal Mom and Other Negotiations. Identity Politics. The Real or Wannabe Hispanic.

Chapter 5. Language and Culture in the Media Battle Zone
Univision: Toward One Vision / One Culture. The Price of Synergy. Telemundo: “The Best of Both Worlds,”. The Terrain of Latinidad: Toward the Best of One or Two Worlds?.

Chapter 6. The Focus (or Fuck Us) Group: Consumers Talk Back, or Do They?
The Focus Group. Quandaries of Representation. Culture and Color.

Chapter 7. Selling Marginality: The Business of Culture
Marketing African Americans: Marketing “by Any Means Necessary,”. Marketing to the Model Minority Consumer. Sensitive People, Docile Consumers.



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