Thursday, October 16, 2008

The 1990 census grabs advertisers’ attention: Measuring the market

The Fresno Bee ran an article in 1983 that was like many from this period, entitled “Hidden market- Hispanics- emerges from the shadows.” The article gave credit to the 1980 census for grabbing advertisers’ eyes. The census showed Hispanics as 6.4 percent of the population, projected to increase to 12 percent by the year 2000, gains which were largely in the southwestern states, Florida, and New York. In 1980, Hispanics made up nineteen percent of California’s population. In Fresno County, the Hispanic population grew sixty-one percent between 1970 and 1980; in the city proper, it grew 107 percent, making the Fresno area one of the “most important Spanish-language markets in the United States.”

Gutierrez said he felt the growth of the market and the increase in advertising to be gradual. What had really boomed was Anglo-dominated businesses’ awareness of Latino consumers. The size of the Latino market is notoriously hard to assess and the standard ratings services nearly always undercount Spanish-speakers, so for decades, KGST did not subscribe to any of the ratings services that are the mainstay of most radio stations. Even so, KGST showed up in reports solicited by other stations. In 1976, a report on the Fresno market put KGST at fourth or fifth place out of eighteen stations, to which Gutierrez responded that they “had no business being so high” considering they broadcast only in Spanish, and only during the daytime.

The result of the 1980 census was that for the first time, businesses and advertisers actually made a concerted effort to measure and assess the “Latino” or “Hispanic” markets. According to the Bee article, such studies “revealed a marketplace of large families striving to attain the American dream, of people concerned about their appearance, and of beer drinkers who put their Anglo counterparts to shame” -- an advertiser’s dream, in other words, a seemingly “new” market for any product. A 1981 study showed Hispanic families were bigger than Anglo families, at an average of 4.2 members. Another researcher found it was a younger population overall. Yet another, bucking the widely held myth that Latinos are renters, not home-owners, found that more than 50 percent of Latinos owned their own homes, just five percent behind Anglos.

The Latino population, so long lacking social or political power, now had the kind of power that causes the strongest players in America to sit up and take notice-- market power. “We’re here. Finally people realize we’re here. We’re here to stay and we’re a potential customer for any kind of business,” Gutierrez said. “Back then [the 1960s], it was not a good thing to be a Mexican. Today it’s great to be a Mexican or a Latin of any kind. Everybody’s after that market. …The buying power of the Hispanic today is huge because a lot of them have left the fields and are blue-collar workers and are professional workers.”

The very existence of Spanish-language media outlets was a source of pride for the community. “It was good for the Hispanic market because it showed there was that much interest, to have a TV station” Gutierrez said. The existence of media outlets was heralded as public recognition of the existence and economic power of the community and showed the progress the community had made to break out of poverty. Studies showed that blacks and Latinos responded favorably to advertising directed to them. Over this period, advertisers took an increasing interest in ethnic markets, which fit into the evolving idea of more directed advertising. Rather than creating an advertisement with mass appeal, advertisers sought out those media outlets that reached the specific demographic that bought their product and made an ad to fit. Many national corporations bought advertising based primarily on ratings. They did not care what a station broadcast; they cared what demographic that station reached, referring mainly to the age group of listeners. The 18 to 34 demographic was the plum in a radioscape made up of primarily format stations blasting one type of music, such as rock, light rock, alternative, or rap, all in search of young listeners. Format stations were the outgrowth of the Top-40 stations that first arose in the late 1960s when teenagers became an identifiable and desirable market. They had a predictable sound throughout the day so that listener-allegiance would be to the station, not to any particular deejay, and they played only the popular hits. The deejays could not chose their own music, but had set play-lists based on national music charts like Billboard. The Top-40 method morphed in format radio where stations ran a top-40 for a variety of different genres aimed at specific demographics.

By the 1980s, stations were listed in Broadcasting Yearbook by their formats. As Spanish-language stations attracted corporate interest and had to compete with newer stations popping up, they moved toward the English-language format radio style. Initially all Spanish-language stations were lumped under the “Spanish” format, but in the 1990s, the categories of Regional Mexican, Tropical and Spanish Romantic music were added. Within these broad genres, some stations targeted a younger audience, others an older demographic, which had not been the case with KGST in the 1950s and 1960s when the programming was for all ages. Also, some stations targeted recent immigrants from certain regions like Jalisco, Guerrero or Michoacan, while others attracted first, second and third-generation immigrants with more U.S.-based pop stars who record in Spanish.

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