Pointers, Pitfalls for Accurate Latino Youth Market Research

By Rochelle Newman-Carrasco

When it comes to research, the adage “garbage in, garbage out” is a concern that many clients share. And never is it more of a concern than when it comes to research in the youth marketing arena.

Kids and teens are masters of manipulation. From providing researchers with “what you want to hear” answers to clamming up and providing no answers at all, the youth audience is sophisticated and savvy when it comes to being put in the role of “guinea pig.”

It is even more of a concern when the goal of the research is to unearth actionable and accurate insights about the complex, bilingual, bicultural young Latino.

As a 20-year veteran of the Hispanic marketing community, I have seen my share of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Hispanic market research in general, and Hispanic youth research in particular. One of the most popular misinterpretations of Latino youth behavior can be traced back to what I’ll call the “multicultural methodology.”

This is where the client or agency, in an effort to be socially representative, makes sure that a group of about eight to 10 Anglo youths includes a couple of Latino and/or African American youths. The research invariably confirms the pre-existing belief that Latino youth are not distinct from their general market counterparts since, when studied side-by-side, no such distinction was observed.

How do you get Latino youth to participate in research studies in which the sole purpose is to generate accurate and actionable insights? Does working with a Latino researcher and only recruiting Latino youth guarantee success?

An intimate understanding of the interplay between language, culture and assimilation and/or acculturation is not only the key to recruiting, but also the key to getting the best information.

Loretta H. Adams of TNS Market Development in San Diego, Calif., cautions against the tendency to want to deal with the market in a black-and-white manner.

“Either people want to hear that this market is the same as [the] general youth market or they insist that it is completely different,” she says. “The truth lies somewhere in between.”

When it comes to language, Adams says there is a tendency to believe Latino teens are best addressed in English, but this has proven to be wrong.

“When given the choice to conduct an interview in Spanish or in English, 60 percent of the Latino teens aged 13 to 17 that we have studied choose to do a Spanish language interview,” she says. “The language of choice often depends on the circumstances, environment and context of what is being studied or talked about. The same person might prefer to talk about shopping in one language but about the Internet in another.”

The value of using a researcher who is linguistically and culturally relevant to the Latino interviewees can’t be overemphasized.

It is important “both languages be available so that if a word or concept is not understood in one language, the interviewer can switch to a preapproved translation,” says Teresa Menendez of Menendez International, headquartered in Key West, Fla. This should help in reducing biases as a result of interviewer’s interpretation, she says.

“As with all qualitative research, the moderator has to bring relevant experiences to the table, using whatever tool is necessary to be part of the group, including Spanglish,” Menendez says. “However, much like a teacher’s first month of the school year, a certain strictness and control must be established to convey structure, rules and objectives before flexibility is allowed in.”

Certain research trends seem to be emerging when it comes to Latinos, says Felip Korzenny of Cheskin Research, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

“Marketers want to know about the variety of language these kids speak so they can communicate with them in their own code,” he says. “Cultural pride is also a new hot topic because Latino culture is now so popular in the U.S., thus appealing to these youths’ pride because they are now central in U.S. society.”

When comparing and contrasting Latinos and non-Latinos, it is important to remember the vast majority of this population resides in the urban centers of major U.S. cities, says Roberto Ramos, president of the Ruido Group.

“This makes them a set of very opinionated, media savvy trend spotters and setters who will challenge anyone who speaks to them,” he says. “To target this tough audience, it is a must to be relevant, and you can do this best by addressing their unique cultural identity and mindset.”

(Loretta H. Adams, TNS Market Development, 619/232-5628, http://www.mktdev. tnsofres.com; Teresa Menendez, Menendez International, 305/296-0505, MenendezIN@aol.com; Felipe Korzenny, Cheskin Research, 650/802- 2100, ext. 205 , http://www.cheskin.com; Roberto Ramos, Ruido Group, 212/683- 3781 rramos@ruidogroup.com.)

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco is CEO/co-founder of Enlace Communications Inc. (http://www.enlace.com), a Los Angles-based Hispanic marketing firm. She serves on the board of directors of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. She can be reached at rochelle@enlacecomm.com or 310/440-5363.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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