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Ideas Media planning

Latin music is the medium and the message

Joshua Bareño

Cultural relevance and language choice are top of mind for U.S. marketers engaging Latinx audiences today. English fluency rates are at an all-time high yet Spanish is more ubiquitous than ever before. Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny—who creates music only in Spanish and appeared in the Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show—was the most streamed artist on Spotify in 2020 and is currently the face of major marketing efforts for both Cheetos and Corona. Latinx culture, a centuries-long exchange between Indigenous, African, and European influences, has permeated every facet of the American mainstream.

So what does this mean for advertising? Focusing on music, a cultural connector for 74% of the Latinx population, can shed light on the nuances of language use, media preference, and value systems. This is of utmost importance to all marketers given that the Latinx segment of the population accounts for more than half of the total growth over the last decade.

Discussions surrounding acculturation have focused on a unidimensional model, which has led many to believe that the importance of Latinx culture would decrease as U.S.-born individuals became increasingly 'American'. A multidimensional model—which allows for selectively acquiring or retaining elements of one’s heritage culture while also selectively acquiring some elements from the receiving cultural context—represents the acculturation process Latinx individuals undergo more accurately. Recent studies show an increased ability to evaluate and integrate competing tenets from the cultures to which they are exposed including ideas related to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity. The majority consider themselves 100% American, 100% Latinx, and challenge preconceived notions about what it means to be either. This apparent dichotomy extends to language as well. The majority are bilingual, fluctuate seamlessly between both languages, or use them simultaneously. Advertisers should be mindful of this and engage this audience throughout their time spent with media in both languages.

71% of Latinx consume media in both Spanish & English across channels

Historically, artists from outside the U.S. have felt the pressure to translate their work and Americanize themselves to gain traction in the world’s largest music market. The increased buying power of the U.S. Latinx audience and the growth in streaming in Central and South America has led to a global rise in popularity for Spanish-language music in recent years. This shift has propelled artists such as Bad Bunny, J. Balvin, and Rosalía to global stardom and enticed English-language artists to drop their own verses in Spanish when partnering with Latin music artists. 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber highlighted the commercial and viral success possible for these types of collabs. The benefits extend well beyond the U.S., the Spanglish hit transcends geographic boundaries and allows artists to resonate with English and Spanish speakers everywhere (2 of the top 5 most spoken languages worldwide).

The thriving Colombian music scene—which includes pop stars Shakira, Juanes, and Sebastián Yatra, reggaeton powerhouses J. Balvin, Maluma, and Karol G, and folkloric indie acts Lido Pimienta, Bomba Estéreo, and Monsieur Periné—encapsulates an emerging consciousness that challenges and venerates our cultural heritage. J. Balvin and Karol G have used their respective platforms to showcase Colombia’s berraquera, or exceptional ability to overcome, while also bringing awareness to the crippling stigma around mental health and the misogyny and machismo prevalent in Western culture. Similarly, Bad Bunny denounced the rampant violence against trans women in Puerto Rico during a performance on The Tonight Show as an act of allyship towards the LGBTQ+ community domestically and abroad. The new wave of bilingual bops embodies the dilemma of modern life across the U.S. and Latin America—an ongoing conflict between evolving values, cultural heritage, and the ever-growing pull of globalization.

Rosalía’s meteoric rise to fame ignited a conversation about cultural appropriation and the role of artists from Spain in Latin American music today. January’s Vogue cover story describes her as 'a global shape-shifter known for slinking across the barriers of genre and form.' Rosalía’s bold proposition has met praise and criticism in reggaeton, hip-hop, and even flamenco, a genre she elevated to the global mainstage. Appropriation boils down to privilege especially in genres that draw from a multitude of cultures themselves. Rosalía puts her influences on the table, is aware of her responsibility in a fundamentally unequal society, and uses her power to elevate all women. Rosalía’s signature nails, a visual parallel to a Spanish Fighting Bull’s horns, symbolize the beauty and strength in womanhood. Her most recent release, a haunting ballad with Billie Eilish, serves as the backdrop to one of the most vulnerable moments portrayed by trans actress Hunter Schafer in the recent Euphoria special, an HBO show that’s been praised for its positive LGBTQ+ representation.

Music is an effective and versatile vehicle to reach Latinx audiences given its integral role in culture and the myriad of options available through digital and linear platforms. Audio streaming is a key opportunity for advertisers as 9 in 10 Latinx use digital platforms to stream radio or music. Both Pandora and Spotify offer solutions to engage with Latinx listeners including broad reach tactics, sponsorship opportunities, and custom creative builds tailored to their audiences. Univision and Telemundo offer integrations and sponsorships in music award shows such as the Latin Grammys or Latin Billboards. The Latin Top 100 and dynamic lineups allow advertisers to reach YouTube users at scale on culturally relevant content. Custom programs with publishers like Remezcla, mitú, or Genius allow brands to create authentic connections with consumers and lend their platforms to the topics and issues that matter most to them.

'Always on' media plans on broad reach platforms should be supplemented with endemic properties and talent partnerships surrounding key moments relevant to each brand. Music also plays a key role for other multicultural and inclusion-based audiences (including both Black and LGBTQ+). An inclusive media planning approach grounded in music allows brands to support the various ways artists use their platforms to address systemic issues and drive social change. For example, Pride, Black Music Month, and the Black Trans Lives Matter protests all took place in June 2020. Ongoing partnerships with artists and community leaders at the intersection of Latinx, Black, and Queer identities can emphasize a brand’s commitment to diversity and serve as a continuation to efforts for Black History Month or International Women’s Day earlier in the year. Advertisers can demonstrate a deeper understanding and appreciation of an audience by acknowledging the intersecting nature of their identity, using media to mirror their experience of interconnected cultural moments, and representing them with nuance and dignity.

Want to hear more? Check out our curated playlist of Spanglish bops where you can dance along to artists like Shakira, Billie Eilish, Beyoncé, Drake, Travis Scott, Bad Bunny, Kane Brown, The Weeknd, Rosalía, and many more!